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Cory Eich, of Epiphany, stands near a field of his corn in early September and talks about the 2013 corn harvest. (Luke Hagen/The Daily Republic)

Despite late-season heat, record corn production anticipated

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

EPIPHANY -- Cory Eich grabbed a corn cob off the stalk during a warm September afternoon and pulled out his pocket knife, slicing deep into a kernel.

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"This heat really has moved things along," said Eich, 54, showing with his knife how the late-August and early-September heat affected the kernel's color and hardness. "Until three weeks ago, we were living the dream."

After Eich -- who farms about 1,000 acres of corn each year near Epiphany -- harvested about 60 bushels per acre in 2012, he's expecting a much stronger season at 150 bushels per acre this fall. He said before the late heat came, he "wouldn't have been shocked if we had as good a corn crop as we've ever had."

Because of the hot temperatures that loomed over South Dakota for about three weeks at the end of August and early September, the kernels' ripening process sped up and they weren't able to grow as large as they could have, which drops overall harvest production.

Still, based on Sept. 1 conditions, South Dakota farmers are expected to produce a record high 769 million bushels of corn, up 44 percent from last year, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Eich has been farming for 33 years, and he works with his nephew, Kelly Endorf, on their farm of 2,200 acres. Eich also is the president of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association

"I think what will help this year is some of the flatter ground that probably doesn't drain the best, we won't have as many drown-outs," Eich said. "A lot of times when you have good years when you have moisture, you get one big rain but you lose some good ground."

Nathan Mueller, a South Dakota State Extension agronomist, said the year started off on the wrong foot when farmers weren't able to plant as early as they would have liked.

Mueller pointed to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that said 7 percent of fields were planted by the first week of May this year, while the average is 25 percent. Last year, 57 percent of fields were planted by the first week of May, the highest amount ever recorded.

Mueller said by the middle of May, 70 percent of the state's corn crop was planted, and then cooler summer temperatures and timely rains helped boost corn production.

"It's changed quite a bit," Mueller said while comparing this year to 2012. "We looked really good in the middle of the summer. Things were still green this August where as last year a lot of crops were brown."

Chad Blindauer, who farms just northwest of Mitchell, is pleased with this year's corn crop.

"Around my area, it looks like it's going to be pretty good," he said. "Myself this year, I thought we'd have another drought just like last year and a lot of guys thought we'd have that. Everyone was worried. As the spring progressed, we got some timely rains, and it's amazing how quickly it turned around. I never dreamed it would look as good as it does this year after last year."

The National Agriculture Statistics Service reported there were 97.4 million acres of corn planted this year. On Aug. 12, the NASS estimated this year's nationwide corn yield at 154.4 bushels per acre, the third-highest yield on record.

Blindauer guessed the projections for South Dakota might be overly optimistic, but not by much.

"It wouldn't surprise me if the state does well because we have so much variability," he said. "There are areas farther north that are extremely dry and the corn isn't very good. But then you do some traveling and you see some tremendous-looking corn."

According to the USDA, corn growers across the nation are expected to produce a record-high 13.8 billion bushels of corn this year, a forecast that is up 28 percent from a drought-hit 2012.

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