North and South Dakota and parts of northwestern Minnesota suffered severe drought conditions this past summer -- some areas more extreme than others -- during critical growth stages for corn, soybeans and sunflowers. I talked to growers in different parts of these drought-stricken areas and heard mixed comments about how the dry conditions affected the yields and the quality of the different fall crops.
Onida, South Dakota, was in the area that had been considered to be in extreme drought most of the spring and summer. It was so bad that much of the winter wheat and some of the spring wheat was baled to feed livestock because pastures had dried up.
Tim Luken, manager of Oahe Grain in central South Dakota said, "Beans are done, and we while don't take any beans here, I can tell you, I have heard yields to be 15 to 60 bpa and have also heard a lot of 40 to 45 bpa."
"As far as our corn crop, I have talked with farmers and am hearing yields 40 to 125 bpa," Luken said. "So far at the elevator, I have dumped corn with 12.8 to 17.5 (percent) moisture and 54 to 60 (pound) test weight. This past spring, we had corn come up in three different stages in some fields, so corn had three different heights in the same field. If you go in those same fields today, you'll see an ear that's long and filled to the end and stubby ears not filled. Field moistures are all over in these type of fields at 18.5 to 21% moisture. Still, overall, farmers are pleasantly surprised with corn."
Luken said he was worried about the sunflower crop, which looked uniform but came up short. "Then the August rains come and flowers took off, headed out and looked very good," he said. "Yes, there are a few wrecks out there, but overall very good-looking flowers. Yields I have heard are worst-case 500 pounds per acre, and best I have heard is 3,800; but talking with producers, there are a lot of 2,000-plus yields. Not sure about oil content yet, but I can't help but think it will be in the 42 to 45% range with test weight 28 to 36 lbs. We are dumping a lot of 32 to 33 lb. sunflowers, and thanks to the late frost we had this year again, the sunflowers picked up more test weight and oil content."
"Remember how dry we were in May, June and July?" asked Luken. "August rains are the proof in the pudding that soybeans are a smart plant and can put yield on very fast."
Northeast of Onida, Ashley, North Dakota, was another area that was hit by extreme drought conditions this past summer. I reached out to Mark Rohrich of Maverick Ag who had just spent a late night harvesting. "Got the sunflowers done before the ridiculous wind of 40 mph and even up to 60 mph comes today (Oct. 26). The sunflowers showed their resilience to what I would expect in a dry year. Above-average yields with good test weights and oil."
"Our soybeans have been done for some time now, and most guys here are finishing up," said Rohrich. "The soybean harvest went well with yield from 30s to upper 40s; good bean yields for the moisture we had. We started on some corn this last weekend. Around 17% moisture or less so far on earliest variety. Because of the two-month-long dry spells, the corn plants are short with low and really low ears. Test weight is good so far, but yields are less than average but a little better than expected considering the season, and (we're) just happy to start getting it out of the field. We will get back to corn harvest when the weather settles, with about a week left to go there."
Ryan Wagner, Wagner Farms of Rosyln, South Dakota, told me that outside of a few spots that were too wet, they finished up with soybeans on Friday, Oct. 20, and started on corn. "Soybean yields were about halfway between average and last year's outstanding crop," said Wagner. "Viewed through the lens of last year's crop, I suppose you could consider them a little disappointing, but if we didn't have last year's crop as reference, we would consider this an outstanding crop. We had a good run harvesting soybeans with moistures dropping throughout harvest, and we finished with soybean moistures below 10%."
"Just getting started on corn, and yields look to be similar to soybeans in that they are above average but significantly down from last year's bin-buster. Moisture is ranging from 20 to 23%, and so we are running everything through the dryer at this point."
Wagner said they have also begun fall fertilizer application with field conditions pretty good, if not slightly wet after the 7 inches of rain they have had in the last two months. "All in all, we are happy with the yields this year, considering how dry we were at the end of July," he said. "I think our no-till program really helped to conserve moisture and allow the crops to hang on for as long as they did, and the varieties and hybrids really seem to be able to handle a lot of stress and still kick out a decent yield."
Heading into eastern North Dakota, an elevator manager told me that they were done with beans and ended up with a 39 bpa average versus last year's record of 52 bpa. He told me that the drought "got the beans," as they had no rain in last half August and his draw area experienced more Sclerotinia stem rot (white mold) than normal.
As far as the corn, he said that drought hurt the corn on poor sandy ground and last year's beet ground with yields at 120 to 140 bushels per acre. But he said they had fields where the crop "tapped into subsoil that ran 230 to 240 bpa." Corn shuttles are not in demand right now at the Pacific Northwest until December forward so, the elevator manager said, "we have big carries and will have farms and commercials full."
In southeastern North Dakota, Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy in Enderlin, told me, "Soybean harvest is 98%-plus completed. Yields are better than expected at 42 to 43 bpa. We had no appreciable yield loss from dicamba drift."
"Our corn harvest is about 20% completed," Brandt said. "Yields so far at 170 bpa vs. last year yield of nearly 200. There is still too much 2016 corn unpriced or stored on the farm, which will keep price rallies limited. Basis will widen with any futures strength."
One thing to note versus last year, Brandt added, is that so far, he is not piling grain. "With the lesser yields and more farm storage, we should get by with not piling as much. Maybe 500,000 bushels or less this year compared to 2,000,000 bushels piled last year."
Tim Dufault, who farms in Crookston in northwestern Minnesota, said that, "Although the valley started September with 2 to 7 inches of rain, by the end of September, harvest was in gear and field conditions were fine. A warmer-than-average October was a big help for dry-down also. Most soybean yields hung near average. Early maturing varieties were hurt the most by the dry summer. They yielded from the teens to 30 bpa. Whereas later varieties were from 30 to the low 40 bpa. The beans were small in size. Another result of the dry growing season."
"Corn has been all over the board," Dufault added. "Depends on if your field caught any of the spotty summer rain showers. From what I have heard, yields are from 140 to 190 bpa. Mostly around 160. Good test weight and moistures down to 17% this past week."
Dufault said that while the summer drought for eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota wasn't as bad as it was further west, it did affect yields on the fall crops. "Most producers will have average yields, but the potential was there for a bigger crop before the drought hit," he said.
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