Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crop harvest slowed by conditions but yields better than expected

I got interviewed for a story by Gretchen Schlosser in the West Central Tribune:

Crop harvest slowed by conditions but yields better than expected after wet spring, summer drought

Reports from west central Minnesota farmers and agriculture professionals reflect the USDA crop-weather report issued Monday: the crop harvest has been slowed by rain, but yields are better than some farmers expected after a wet, late spring and drought conditions this summer.

Reached on his cell phone as he was combining corn north of Willmar, Alan Carlson reported that he is not far enough along in harvesting the crop. He estimated that he had harvested about 20 percent of his corn and was working in a drier than average field.

The yields were about what Carlson expected, with the lower ground yielding good numbers, but the higher, sandy hills producing less grain. The corn was running about 20 percent moisture, but the date on the calendar won’t allow for any drying in the field, he said. “It’s time to get it done,” he said.
Like other farmers, Carlson reported soybean yields that were better than expected. His average was between 46 and 55 bushels an acre.

The state crop-weather report, the first report issued in three weeks due to the government shutdown, shows that 19 percent of the state’s corn crop has been harvested, compared to 95 percent last year and 49 percent on a five-year average.

The soybean harvest, at 80 percent, is behind last year’s record pace of 100 percent, and on par with the five-year average of 83 percent. The sugar beet harvest lagged, at 66 percent, behind the 86 percent reported last year and the 80 percent five-year average.

Nationally, 39 percent of the corn crop and 63 percent of the soybeans was harvested as of Sunday — a figure based on progress in the 18 states that grow 93 to 95 percent of the two crops. Across the country, 62 percent of the sugar beets had been lifted, slightly less than the 66 percent five-year average.

Locally, the sugar beet harvest has been slowed significantly by rainfall. Noah Hultgren, who farms with his family in the Willmar area, reported that they would usually have 50 to 60 percent of their beets lifted, but had only 20 to 30 percent out of the ground and were having to push or pull each truck through the field to haul out the beets.

“It’s a slow-moving progress,” Hultgren said Monday, estimating that two weeks of good weather, with no rain, would be needed to finish the harvest. Hultgren said the yields on the corn and the sugar beets were a little better than he expected two months ago when drought conditions persisted across the region.

Locally, Wes Nelson, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County, estimated that 90 percent of the soybeans had been harvested and that farmers were plugging away at the corn, with an estimated 25 percent of that crop out of the field.

Nelson reported that farmers reported both corn and soybean yields better than they had expected, but with variability based on soils. There have also been reports of lighter than normal test weights in the corn.

Like Hultgren, Nelson stressed that the biggest concern is getting the sugar beets harvested. “We need a dry stretch to get that done,” he said, noting that the piling sites have only small piles so far. “It will be a challenge for the sugar beet producers.”

Nelson was back in the office after the government shutdown and noted that the staff was processing the annual rental payments for the Conservation Reserve Program and then would move on to the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program and Average Crop Revenue Election program payments. He estimated that the CRP payments would show up in landowner’s accounts next week, and the DCP and ACRE payments would be completed in the first full week of November.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension crops educator for the region, said that soybean yields were running a lot better than most farmers expected. The usual average is about 40 bushels, but this year’s yields are in the 50-bushel range.

As for corn, most farmers report their crop yields would be good if they could take both the drowned-out low acres and the drought-burned hills out of the equation, she said. “Mother Nature was definitely in control this year,” she said. “There’s not much a farmer could do this year to change that.”

DeJong-Hughes estimated the corn yield at 180 bushels per acre, but cautioned she’s heard reports of yields all over the board. As part of her work in extension, DeJong-Hughes took aerial photos three times this summer to observe and record crop conditions. The fields began the season yellowed by wet conditions, then greened up, and later dried out in the dry conditions.

Even if a field looks green and healthy from the roadway, she said, the view from above and ultimately, the yield totals at harvest time, show what’s really happening on that piece of land.
“Fly over with a plane and the field tells you a different story,” she said, noting that the fields never did catch up this year and that the combine will slow that lost potential at harvest.