Farm Horizons, December 2016

Harvest 2016: wet fields, high yields

By Marie Zimmerman

Downright miserable to decent. That’s the 2016 harvest review from the area, farmers battling wet field conditions and drownouts, but often coming out ahead with high yields on corn and soybeans.

“I think what we ended up with this year was a lot of variability across the landscape,” said David Nicolai, area crop extension educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

Rain was the theme throughout the summer. Precipitation data gathered by volunteer-based observation networks throughout Minnesota for the Minnesota Climatology Working Group paints the soggy picture: The combined county average for Wright County was 28.3 inches from May through September. In the same period, Carver had a combined county average of 31.72 inches, Meeker had 26.4 inches and McLeod got 27.74 inches.

Heavy rainfall and storm damage caused crop losses, and the extra precipitation kept some growers out of the fields later into fall, Nicolai said.

Fields were sticky on the border between Meeker and McLeod counties where Jay Mackedanz runs about 1,300 acres of corn and soybeans. “Miserable” was the word he used to describe harvest, one of the worst in the decade since he started renting his own ground. Only 2009, with its late harvest, rivals this year, Mackedanz said.

“The good part is harvest is early this year,” he said, with his combining mostly complete the first week of November.

At mid-November, corn for grain harvest was four days behind the five-year average and eight days behind last year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Yields were “fairly good” for Mackedanz, corn from 185 to 200 bushels per acre and soybeans in the mid-50s, some 60s. He tried to hold off on tillage to hopefully correct some of the compaction in the fields, where his combine got stuck 19 times during harvest.

Good yields were a bright spot, Nicolai said. Early planting got the crops off to a strong start, followed by an accumulation of growing degree days.

“And we had a lot of rain in August, which helps the soybean yields. And then we were able to get by without an early, killing frost,” Nicolai said.

From anecdotal yield information, a lot of fields brought in 60 to 70 bushels of soybeans per acre, Nicolai said, and there were many reports of 190 to 200 bushel corn.

For Chris Buckentin in rural Brownton, the yields helped temper rough weather.

“It’s going to be our best corn crop ever in six years farming,” he said, adding his soybeans also yielded above average, despite drownouts.

Buckentin works about 400 acres. After several years when harvest was “a breeze,” 2016 was tough going. His combine only got stuck once, but he’s concerned the compaction of heavy machinery on wet soil is going to linger.

“I think we will feel the effects of this harvest for the next several years,” Buckentin said.

Farmers tried to load on the edges of fields and work around especially wet spots, but sometimes the crop just had to come out. In November, the USDA rated Minnesota’s topsoil moisture supplies 80 percent adequate and 18 percent surplus, with 0 percent short.

“That’s a good thing to some extent to go into the winter wet,” Nicolai said. “Then we aren’t going to be as dry in spring.”

Above average temperatures and dry weather allowed Minnesota farmers to continue harvest and field activities late into November. Dave Marquardt and his dad finished combining at the end of October. They have about 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in southwestern Wright County near Howard Lake.

“I was pretty nervous for about a month there (about harvest),” said Marquardt, who noted field conditions were decent —“not bad but certainly not great.”

His beans yielded above average, and his corn yields were good where soil wasn’t too wet, he said.

Overall, corn came in from the field dry this year, which will save growers money on drying costs, Nicolai said.

“I think (farmers) have benefitted from a dry fall in terms of lower corn moisture. I’ve heard a lot of 15 to 18 percent moisture in the corn,” he said.

According to NASS, Minnesota’s corn moisture content of grain at harvest was 17 percent at the Nov. 14 reporting date.

Nicolai encourages producers who store grain to check for insect and mold issues periodically.

“As temperatures cool down, cool the grain down. Keep your grain at the same temperature as the outside air if your intention is to store it through the winter. Your fan is your friend,” Nicolai said.

In addition to fighting compaction issues in spring, farmers have low commodity prices to contend with.

“It has been a financial challenge for growers in the area — commodity prices, the costs of inputs and the cost of land, particularly if they’re in an area where they’re paying higher rents,” Nicolai said.

He hopes exports can bolster flagging commodity prices, and notes high yields will help to some extent.

“I think we’re fortunate this year having higher yields in a lot of cases because it’s helping the grower deal with lower commodity prices,” Nicolai said. “I think growers are going to have to market as smart as they can and get some help.”

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