Corn down 26 percent, beans down 15 percentPost-harvest numbers rolling in; farmer says 2013 rain "absolutely essential."
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
WINNER — Bryan Jorgensen is still hoping for rain, and he’s definitely not alone.
“For us, it’s absolutely essential,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re not going to have a crop at all next year. Nothing.” Jorgensen, 47, farms with his family’s operation on land about 15 miles north of Winner. After enduring one of the hottest and driest summers in the state’s history, the moisture in the family’s 10,000 crop acres has all but completely evaporated, he said.
“It’s not unusual for us in the western part of the state to be hot and dry,” he said. Jorgensen, who has farmed for 27 years, recalls farming through droughts in the past, but admitted this year has been especially harsh.
Between April 1 and Nov. 5, a USDA report says Winner received 8.85 inches of rain, 11.01 inches below normal. In that same time, Mitchell received 17.16 inches of rain, 2.21 inches below normal.
Still, many farmers were able to salvage something from their fields, according to numbers released Friday.
The USDA estimates the state’s farmers will bring in about 502.9 million bushels of corn and 130.2 million bushels of soybeans. The totals are about a 26 percent decline in corn production and about a 15 percent decline in soybean production from 2011.
The USDA expects corn production nationwide this year will be 10.7 billion bushels, a 13 percent drop from last year and the lowest total since 2006. Soybean production nationwide is expected to be about 2.86 billion bushels, an 8 percent decline from last year.
Corn yields across the country are expected to average 122 bushels per acre, the lowest level since 1995. Soybean yields nationwide are estimated to be about 39 bushels per acre, down more than two bushels from last year.
In South Dakota, the average yields are even lower, with corn at 94 bushels per acre and soybeans at 28 bushels per acre.
Jorgensen completed his harvest Oct. 5, almost four weeks earlier than last year, he said.
As of Oct. 28, South Dakota’s farmers had completely harvested this year’s corn crop, a U.S. Department of Agriculture report says. Only 80 percent of the corn crop had been harvested by that date last year. South Dakota’s soybean harvest was completed as of Oct. 21, also a few weeks earlier than normal.
The early end to this year’s harvest is a consequence of the drought, said Jack Davis, a South Dakota State University Extension economics field specialist in Mitchell.
“Corn was dried down and people were starting to see field loss, so they went after it and harvested it,” he said.
Jorgensen said he averaged about 40 bushels per acre in corn, less than half the statewide average.
“We were probably better off because we are able to utilize the failed crop as a feed source,” he said.
Jorgensen cut half his corn crop this year for silage, which will be used as feed for the 1,000 cows raised at the farm and for the 3,500 bulls the farm conditions for sale.
Even in more productive years, yields in South Dakota generally fall below the national average because of the state’s relatively harsh climate and short growing season, Davis said.
Whether farmers will change how they operate in the wake of the drought is yet to be seen, Davis said.
“You may see producers go back to more diverse cropping,” he said.
In recent years, Davis explained, many farmers have planted more corn on the same land year after year instead of rotating their crops because of the higher profits corn has offered.
Because yields from those “corn on corn” acres tended to be lower during the drought, Davis said many farmers may return to a more traditional crop rotation.
“We’ve got to be diverse,” Jorgensen said. “We can’t just rely on corn and soybeans.”
In addition to the crops and cattle raised at Jorgensen’s family farm, the family offers pheasant hunting, complete with a lodge.
“We’ve got our interest in a lot of different areas,” he said. “Diversity really is key.”