17-COUNTY OUTLOOK: Farmers wonder what might have been
Call it a mini-drought.
It hit in late August, breaking some heat records and causing near-record heat across the entire Mitchell area. Temperatures went above 90 and hovered there day after day after day, with little to no rain.
It didn't spell doom for the harvest, but it eroded yields that were expected to be exceptional.
Still, after a summer-long drought last year, farmers are feeling much better. Corn and soybean projections aren't great in many places anymore, but they're far beyond last year's numbers.
Following are harvest projections gathered in early September from ag officials in each of the 17 counties where The Daily Republic circulates its print edition.
The hot temperatures during the final two weeks of August hurt the growth of corn and soybeans, said Owen Fagerhaug, Aurora County Farm Service Agency executive director.
Fagerhaug, who's held his position for 11 years, said there was strong potential in both corn and bean harvest to be "very good this year" before temperatures in the region reached the middle 90s with little to no rain during the stretch.
"What's frustrating for the ag world is the potential was so great, and now it's not what it was," Fagerhaug said.
Still, this year is much brighter than last year's drought-laden summer.
Corn in the county is expected to get 130 to 160 bushels per acre and soybeans could get about 30 bushels per acre. Earlier in the summer, some were speculating 180 to 200 bushels per acre for the corn harvest and 40 to 50 bushels per acre for beans.
"Last year, the average for the corn harvest was about 50 (bushels per acre) because of the heat and the drought," Fagerhaug said.
"For beans, it was in the teens last year, some even below 10 bushel and a lot were abandoned. This year is tremendous."
Fagerhaug added the hay and small grain harvest has been strong.
"Some guys got two years worth of hay in one year, because tamed and native grass were really good," he said. "Wheat was getting 50 to 70 bushels, oats was 70 to 90, and alfalfa, some guys were getting third and fourth cutting in places."
Last year, Bon Homme County's farmers, hit hard by drought, struggled to get any healthy crops from their moisture-starved fields.
This year, conditions have changed for the better, according to Mark Rohlfing, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Tyndall.
Rohlfing estimates that yields in Bon Homme County will be between 150 and 200 bushels per acre for corn and 50 bushels or higher for soybeans, depending on moisture and soil conditions.
Within the county, crops around Tyndall and Tabor are probably doing the best because of a few additional rains those areas received, Rohlfing said.
In early August, hail did some localized damage to crops in Bon Homme County, but the damage wasn't as widespread as it was in neighboring Hutchinson County.
A few weeks of high temperatures and little moisture in late August will likely mean an earlier harvest, Rohlfing said.
"The last two or three weeks dried it out," he said. "But it's still way better than last year."
This year's corn harvest will see between 100 and 150 bushels per acre, according to Buffalo-Brule counties Farm Service Extension Agency Executive Director James Anderson.
"Until the last two weeks of hot weather, we probably had a really exceptional crop," Anderson said. "If we would have caught a rain before that heat, it would have been great for us. It's still going to be good, but just not as good as it could have been."
Anderson expected the soybean harvest to get between 30 and 60 bushels per acre. He added spring wheat was fair and most of the winter wheat failed because of winter kill.
"Overall, this year was way better than last year," he said. "It dried out last year so early. All of the crops -- other than winter wheat -- will be above normal. And even though winter wheat failed this year, it was outstanding last year."
James Anderson, Buffalo-Brule counties Farm Service Extension Agency executive director, who's held his job for 30 years, said small grain harvest has been excellent this year.
He estimated the oats harvest was in excess of 100 bushels per acre and spring wheat was 40 to 50 bushels per acre.
"The hay was also outstanding," he said.
Anderson noted the heat and dry weather during the final two weeks of August took a hard hit on the row crops. He said the corn harvest will be 100 to 125 bushels per acre since summer rains were spotty. Soybeans should get 25 to 40 bushels per acre, he added.
He said his estimated numbers for the corn and beans harvest are for the crops that are not under irrigation, which he estimated one-third of row-crop fields in the county to have.
"We would have had a lot better yields if it wasn't for the last two weeks of August," he said. "It probably would have been the best crop I've ever seen in the area."
Yields in Charles Mix County will vary from field to field, according to Joe Schultz, executive director of the county's Farm Service Agency office.
Certain areas of Charles Mix County missed out on timely rains and are still drier than farmers would like, Schultz said, most notably in areas around Marty and south of Wagner.
But even with a few dry spots, the outlook for this year's harvest is still relatively positive. Last year, farmers devastated by drought in Charles Mix County had no choice but to cut their corn crop early and use most of it for silage or cattle feed.
"The feeling is generally good," Schultz said. "We had a better year this year."
Schultz estimates that yields in Charles Mix County will be between 50 and 150 bushels per acre for corn and between 25 and 50 bushels per acre for soybeans.
The high temperatures in late August helped corn in Davison County but hurt the soybeans, according to Jack Davis, agronomy business management field specialist with SDSU Extension.
"With the heat we had through August, we lost potential yield," he said.
Farmers are expecting 120 to 170 bushels per acre of corn, which is average to above average, Davis said. He added that the corn did well during cool temperatures with decent moisture in early August and the heat later sped up the maturity.
Soybeans aren't doing as well.
"I've heard comments that there's quite a few pods, but they're not filling. If we'd had rain toward the end of August, they'd be better," he said.
Lynn Deinert, manager at Farmers Elevator Co. in Mount Vernon, said farmers are expecting an average of 35 bushels an acre for soybeans.
Despite that, farmers are in pretty good spirits, he added. They're concerned about the soil recharging for next year if there are no late season or early spring rains.
Were it not for the late-summer heat wave, Douglas County could have had a record-setting soybean crop, according to Jim Krantz, a cow/calf field specialist for South Dakota State University Extension
"They had all the potential there," Krantz said, "but it just quit raining and the heat turned up."
Though a small portion of Douglas County's soybean plants are losing leaves due to heat stress, the yield is still expected to be about average, Krantz said, at 35 to 40 bushels per acre.
Corn yields may have also been hurt slightly by the recent heat, but are still expected to be above average, at about 100 to 120 bushels per acre, Krantz said.
"It isn't like this is a disaster by any means," Krantz said, referring to the heat. "It just had really good potential early, with soybeans especially."
The hay crop, which Krantz said was bolstered by early rains and a cooler growing season, appears exceptional.
"We're going to be able to have a really abundant feed supply for the winter."
"It's a huge difference,"said Becky Zirpel, Gregory County's Farm Service Agency executive director, comparing this year's expected harvest with last year's drought-blasted harvest.
"The moisture has been excellent, and some of the county's still got a good shot at rain," she said. "It felt like a little Garden of Eden down here this year."
Early grain yields, despite a late harvest of oats and a few other small grain crops, have turned out higher than anticipated and forage crops like alfalfa and grass hay have also exceeded expectations, Zirpel said.
"There's a lot of alfalfa and grass hay in this county," she said. "We're into third and fourth cuttings in some areas and tonnage has been tremendous, with alfalfa hay yields ranging up to 4 tons per acre, and and regular hay at 2 tons an acre."
Last year, producers were lucky to eke out a half-ton per acre, she said.
Depending on soil type, growers are expecting corn yields of 100 to 200 bushels per acre. It's early to predict soybean yields but area farmers are expecting averages of 40 bushels per acre, she said.
Livestock producers are doing equally well, she said, and instead of selling, as they did last year, some stockmen are looking to once again build herds.
"Stock dams still have water," Zirpel said, "and pastures are absolutely excellent."
Farmers in Hanson County are pretty upbeat about the harvest as they look for average crop yields.
George Schulte, manager of Farmers Alliance Elevator in Alexandria, said corn was planted a little late and the heat in August helped it mature.
Soybeans have been suffering some, but farmers are positive fields will produce a pretty good crop, he said.
He said farmers are expecting 35 to 40 bushels per acre for soybean yields and 150 bushels per acre, or so, for corn.
"They're looking forward to harvest," Schulte said. "The market is going a little in the tank, but they're pretty upbeat."
An August thunderstorm slammed parts of Hutchinson County with wind and hail, ruining crops directly in its path.
Farmers hit by the storm -- many of whom were hit hard by drought last year -- were left hurting, but elsewhere in the county, other farmers carried on as normal.
"Compared to last year, it's just a total turnaround," said Matt Winsand, general manager of Dakota Plains Ag Center in Parkston.
Winsand estimates that yields in Hutchinson County will be between 180 and 200 bushels per acre for corn and about 50 bushels per acre for soybeans. Last year, farmers looking at dry fields in the area struggled to get 20 bushels per acre for corn.
Wheat, though not as strong quality-wise as in past years, will still probably yield between 50 to 60 bushels per acre.
Increased yields will make up for a slight drop in the price of corn this year as Hutchinson County farmers head into the harvest with a more optimistic attitude than last year, Winsand said.
"I think a lot of farmers are excited to get going to see what the corn crop is actually going to produce," he said.
Mark Fuerst, the South Dakota Wheat Growers manager in Alpena and Wessington Springs, said harvest will be a little above average this year.
"The timely rains and cool weather were really good this year," he said. "Then we all prayed for some dry weather to push things along and we got it at the end of August."
Fuerst estimated the corn harvest will get yields of 140 to 175 bushels per acre and beans will get 30 to 35. He said the heat at the end of August was tough on soybean growth.
Fuerst added the hay supply was depleted last year during a drought year, but this year there's "an ample supply of hay."
"This year was very pleasing compared to last year on crop production," he added.
Fuerst said there wasn't much winter wheat planted last fall, but said the spring grains were excellent. Yields for spring wheat werer 45 to 60 bushels per acre and it was common to see 100 bushels per acre for oats, Fuerst said.
David Klingberg, Jones County Farm Service Agency executive director, said producers are hoping for a solid fall harvest after a roller coaster year for wheat crops.
"Things are looking good for corn, milo and sunflowers, after quite a few winter wheat problems," Klingberg said.
Winter wheat is traditionally a big crop for Jones County farmers, who Klingberg called "creatures of habit."
"They planted almost 52,000 acres last fall and 35,000 of those acres were reported as failed."
The winter wheat crop that survived averaged yields of 10 to 30 bushels an acre -- down from the historical 50 bushels per acre average.
To salvage the growing year, producers sprayed out the fields, tilled them under or quickly planted to other crops such as oats, corn, milo or sunflowers.
Area farmers have planted about 15,000 acres of corn, Klingberg said, and expect a harvest average of 70 to 80 bushels per acre.
A solid spring wheat harvest helped offset winter wheat losses and averaged about to 60 bushels per acre, said Klingberg, "which is good for our county."
"We've got a few guys who dabble in soybeans out here who planted 5,000 to 10,000 acres in the past year, but historically soybeans are not big here," he said.
About 19,000 acres have been planted in milo and 20,000 acres have been planted in sunflowers, which will be used for oil and birdseed.
In Lyman County, "It's going to be a real good crop," said Ray Wellman, location supervisor for South Dakota Wheat Growers in Reliance.
The milo crop looks good and should make 100 bushels per acre or better, and corn should make 120 bushels per acre or better, Wellman said.
The sunflower crop is also looking strong this year, and should yield about 2,000 pounds per acre, said Wellman, which is considered in the excellent range for yields.
Corn crops are bearing up, Wellman said, despite the late August heat.
"We've had a little bit more rain out here so it's holding up pretty good."
Soybeans are not a major crop in his area, Wellman said.
SDSU Extension plant pathology field specialist Bob Fanning, who lives in Lyman and works in Tripp County, said crops in both areas "look wonderful and we're very optimistic there will be some dramatically good yields."
Moisture had levels had geographical quirks this year.
"In Lyman County farmers said areas along Interstate 90, for some reason, seemed to catch more rain than areas north or south and crops are doing better than other areas, but it's been pretty spotty," Fanning said.
Areas with soybeans are waist-high, Fanning said, and are looking very good. Depending on late-season moisture, soybean yields could be as high as 40 bushels an acre or better, he said.
Winter wheat was in the 30 to 40 bushels per acre range and was generally weaker than yields in neighboring Tripp County, which received more timely moisture.
Winter wheat planting could prove problematic in some areas that still have low subsoil moisture. In those areas, more rain will be needed to give winter wheat plants a good start, Fanning said.
Alfalfa hay production has also been strong, Fanning said, with producers getting three to four cuttings.
The weather treated farmers well in McCook County this year.
"Moisture levels came at the right time, producing a pretty good crop, even though we've had no measurable rain since Aug. 10," said Jim Mutziger, Salem location manager for Central Farmers Co-op Elevator.
Salem area farmers are expecting average yields for corn and soybeans -- 125 to 150 bushels an acre for corn and 30 to 35 bushels an acre for soybeans.
Farmers are in a good mood because they expect good yields and soybean prices are good.
"Corn prices are much too low, they need to be higher," he said. "But if the yield is better, then that will make up some of the difference."
In Miner County, farmers are expecting good to average crops.
Although he wouldn't comment on specific yield numbers, Bruce Yanish, general manager at Howard Farmers Co-op, said corn and soybeans "look to be a very good crop."
He said the area has been shy of rain and a good shower could help salvage the soybeans.
In the Canova area, farmers are positive about getting average corn yields and not as happy expecting just below average soybean yields.
"We were one rain away from a real good crop of beans in this area," said Terry Campshoff, branch manager for Central Farmers Co-op in Canova.
He said corn yields are expected to be between 120 and 150 bushels an acre. Beans may average between 25 and 30 bushels an acre.
"We had a half inch or an inch of rain in August," he said. "By Howard, things are greener and to the east."
"We see the yield going lower," said Kurt Hellberg, agronomist at South Dakota Wheat Growers Elevator in Woonsocket. "If we don't get any more rain, the newest pods are not going to fill."
The hot weather came just as the corn crop matured, he said, so yield shouldn't be affected too much. He expects the weight might be a bit lower, though.
Farmers are positive and expect to see average yields for their major crops -- estimates of 160 bushels an acre for corn and 40 bushels an acre for soybeans, Hellberg said.
"The weather hasn't dampened their spirits too much," he said. "Especially compared to last year."
He said prices are down and farmers hope prices come up a little on both corn and soybeans, but the yields look good.
"We had timely rains during pollination to hold those yields up," he said.
Tripp County Farm Service Agency Director Larry Peterson said recent forecasts from producers have been encouraging.
"Crops this fall will be much better than a year ago," he said. "We've obviously got good moisture and fall harvest should be good."
Early estimates are forecasting 80 bushels an acre for corn, 80 bushels an acre for oats, 70 bushels for milo, 24 bushels for soybeans and about 1,450 pounds of sunflowers per acre.
By comparison, corn barely averaged 40 bushels per acre in the county in 2012, with some areas producing little to no crop.
"It's sure a better crop than last year," Peterson said.
Spring wheat averaged 39 bushels an acre this year and winter wheat, 47 bushels per acre.
Weather damage has been minimal, Peterson said, with reports of some hail on the western edges of the county. Crops were not totaled, however, and the affected areas were not widespread.
Extreme heat didn't hit the county until crops were well developed, he said.
"We're also missing the extreme winds of a year ago."
Bob Fanning, an SDSU Extension plant pathology field specialist, said he has had reports of some Goss's wilt -- a bacterial disease that affects corn leaves damaged by hail -- but the problem has not been widespread.
It will be a dramatic difference from last year, Fanning said, when some areas had no yields for either silage or grain.
"This year I think a lot of the corn in this area will be at or above 100 bushels per acre, which is generally above average for this area," Fanning said.
Alfalfa hay was much stronger than 2012 with producers getting three and four cuttings.