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Bumper harvest looks to drag into 2010

Scott's Supply worker Glen Wentland, of Mount Vernon, assembles a Kinze corn planter Thursday. With the winter weather, the service center has seen a steady flow of tractors that need to be worked on. Laura Wehde/Republic Photo

TRIPP -- Snow was clearly visible in parts of a wind-scoured field David Guthmiller and his father, Delmar, were combining Thursday afternoon northeast of Tripp.

"It's been a good harvest," said David Guthmiller, "but a long harvest."

For some farmers in the region, that snow is likely to push back the completion of harvest until next year, with one Extension specialist from Sanborn County noting that producers are "racing the storms."

"The last 14 days have been panic," said Irene Graves, who works from an office in Woonsocket.

The snow is just the latest in a series of challenges to farmers, many of whom have bounced between high yield predictions and clashes with precipitation.

Graves expects harvesting to extend into 2010. If snow continues to keep farmers out of field, the harvest might not end until March or April, which could mean a 20 percent degradation in the crop.

Compared to 2008, this year's South Dakota corn harvest is well behind schedule. A report released earlier this week by the National Agricultural Statistics Service showed that only 73 percent of the state's corn had been harvested, a number that pales to the 92 percent harvested at the same time in 2008.

Nebraska is ahead of South Dakota with 88 percent of its harvest complete. In North Dakota, only 53 percent of the corn is in the bin.

Part of the delay stems from wet soil, a problem that kept some farmers out of their fields and concerned about the possibility of mold growth.

However, a dry November quickly reduced the amount of moisture in area corn, surpassing the expectations of area ag experts, including Roger Barrick.

"Maybe you'll lose 4 percent of moisture in November. We lost that in the first 10 days," said Barrick, Douglas County Extension agronomy educator. "That's better than normal."

John Cairns, Davison County's Extension agronomy educator, said he saw similar drops in the area.

"You can't do much better than that in a grain bin," Cairns said. "It almost seemed like a miracle."

In Sanborn County, Graves said there was a time when moisture levels were 10 percent above normal. Concerns about mold have decreased, but Graves said worries about the ability to harvest crops remain, even if record yields are anticipated for the area.

"We have tonnage," Graves said. "Whether we have quality remains to be seen."

Even though challenges remain to producers, both Cairns and Barrick said many producers remain optimistic.

"They've got probably the best crop ever," Barrick said. "They should be pretty happy."