Herald JournalHerald Journal, Nov. 1, 2004

Warm September helped raise crop yields

By Jane Otto

With the bad, comes the good.

It’s an adage that rings true for this year’s growing season and harvest.

An Aug. 20 frost, which came on the heels of a cool summer, scared area farmers. In early September, experts predicted farmers would see the lowest corn and soybean yields in a decade.

An unseasonably warm September, however, caused experts to flip-flop. Corn yields, alone, are now expected to average at 155 bushels per acre statewide, up nine bushels from last year, according to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service.

“The good Lord has a way of averaging things out,” said Kevin Dahlman of Dahlco Seeds in Cokato.

Good yields

Though a lot of the corn is yet to be harvested, Wright County farmers are seeing higher corn yields than the 118 bushels the county averaged last year.

So far, yields have ranged from 150 bushels per acre to 190 bushels per acre, Dahlman said.

Mark Diers can’t recall anything like it.

“I’m 47 years old and have been farming since I was 18, and I’m in the seed business, and I’ve never weighed such high yields so consistently as I did this year,” Diers said from inside a combine, south of Howard Lake.

Also a district sales manager for Producers Hybrid, Diers said the corn was two to three weeks behind in growing days come September.

“The crop could have been a train wreck as far as the corn was concerned,” he said.

Farmers also have a solid soybean crop, despite the summer being harder on them than the corn.

Yields averaged between 40 and 45 bushels per acre, Diers said.

Last year, Wright County averaged 23 bushels per acre. The low numbers were largely due to aphids. Cooler weather and spraying kept the aphid population down, Diers said.

McLeod County and western Carver County have a similar story.

“I think both crops have been a pleasant surprise,” said Myron Oftedahl, an agronomist with Hutchinson Co-op in Lester Prairie.

Farmers in McLeod and Carver counties are averaging near 45 bushels per acre and thus far, corn is roughly between 150 and 180 bushels per acre.

The cool summer made for shorter plants and less pods, Oftedahl said. “The longer the period from pollination to when we freeze, the better.”

September’s decent weather, however, produced decent sized beans, he added. “It’s moving the starches and sugars out of the stock, that’s important. That last month, it was mostly getting it from point A to point B.”

Extension Educator Joe Neubauer said soil is another factor. Plants grown on peat ground didn’t fare as well because the young soil tends to stay cool, he said.

“Most of the beans are not our best, but they’re a lot better than it could have been,” Neubauer said. “It depends on the ground. I’ve heard reports of 50 bushels and I’ve heard reports of 15 to 16 bushels.”

No area in McLeod County had particularly better or worse crops than another area, with the exception of some fields west of Silver Lake that had hail damage, Neubauer said.

A little bit wet

As the corn is harvested, farmers have seen its moisture content vary from one field to the next.

The content should be below 15 percent before it’s stored, Oftedahl said.

In Wright, McLeod, and eastern Carver counties, the content has been anywhere from 17 percent to 37 percent.

Despite that range, Dahlman said overall, he’s pleased with the averages. “The biggest surprise is the corn is drier than we first thought,” he said. “The moisture is in the 20s, about the 25- to 26-percent range. It’s wetter than the last two years, but they were an exception.”

Diers said his neighbor’s corn came in at 17 percent, while his corn was in the low 20s.

Jerry Haekenkamp, who farms near the Albright Mills area, north of Howard Lake, brought his corn to the Winsted Farmers Elevator on Wednesday. He wasn’t surprised when elevator employee Swanny Landin said, “Hey, that’s good corn. Moisture’s at 20 percent.”

The sandy soil where he farms helps, Haekenkamp said.

Stan Lachermeier, a Winsted-area farmer, had corn yields in the 180 to 190 bushel-per-acre range, but a moisture content in the 30-percent range.

“The moisture really jumps around,” said Dick Klosowski, the Winsted elevator manager. “Some of the corn will end up sitting in the field for a while.”

Diers estimated 35 percent of the corn crop in the Howard Lake-Winsted area has been harvested. “We just don’t get the drying time,” he said.

Other than last Monday, farmers have seen only cool, cloudy, drizzly, and more recently, very wet days, none of which aid the drying process.

To get it to that 15 percent level usually requires artificial drying.

Drying costs

Artificial drying needs fuel and electricity, both which run up drying costs.

“I’m spending 20 cents a bushel just on LP, when corn is paying $1.65 a bushel,” Diers said. “And, that’s without electricity and I’m running seven motors. It’s a good crop, but the energy costs are so wild.”

As Bill Graham of the Winsted elevator ran the corn dryers Wednesday, he said it costs four cents per percentage point to dry corn.

So if corn has 20 percent moisture, it will cost the farmer 24 cents per bushel to dry. The elevator was paying $1.60 per bushel Friday. With drying costs added, that farmer would net $1.36 per bushel.

“The yields are up, the moisture’s up, but the price is depressed,” Klosowski said.

The going rate

Dahlman, who recently visited Iowa, said all the corn belt states are harvesting a “phenomenal” crop. Those bumper crops also contribute to lower prices.

“By the time they get a really good crop, the price falls on the tank. That’s usually the way it goes,” Oftedahl said.

Neubauer stressed that this is the time farmers should be taking advantage of loan deficiency payments, better known as LDPs.

Farmers receive LDPs through the Farm Service Agency when the county posted price is below their loan rate. The payments can also alleviate the pain associated with drying costs.

 “Farmers have to make sure they don’t let that slip by,” Neubauer said, adding that LDPs can be requested on the Internet, as well as visiting the FSA office.

Despite the drying costs and the low prices, Diers couldn’t disguise the excitement in his voice. Talking on a cell phone while combining a friend’s field, he said, “The moisture’s all over the field, but the yields are tremendous.”

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