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Soybean yields slightly down in 2016 after record 2015

Soybeans in a field west of Letcher. (Matt Gade/Republic)1 / 2
Soybeans in a field west of Letcher. (Matt Gade/Republic)2 / 2

ETHAN — Coming off a record year of soybean production in 2015, South Dakota isn't expected to be as successful in 2016.

But officials remain hopeful that yields across the state will be comparable to last year.

"Any time you follow a record year in production, the next year will look at little down," said South Dakota Soybean Association Executive Director Jeremy Freking.

In 2015, 5.15 million acres of soybeans were harvested in South Dakota, averaging about 46 bushels per acre. Earlier this year, the United States Department of Agriculture forecasted there would be 4.8 million acres of soybeans in the state in 2016, with a yield of 43 bushels per acre.

Freking said this is a "very good" crop, topping the five-year average, and what he expected harvest to look like in 2016.

Generally, Freking said, farmers to the north of I-90 were able to begin planting early in the season, while those south generally had issues with excess rainfall, pushing planting back later than anticipated. As a result, the time at which farmers began harvesting varied across the state.

"It's really a mixed bag where harvest is at in the state," Freking said. "I think farmers are hopeful for a decent crop."

South Dakota is on par with the rest of the nation, despite its dropping numbers.

The NASS forecasted the nation's soybean production would be about 4.06 billion bushels, up slightly from 2015's 3.93 billion bushels. The average field was forecasted to see a yield of about 48.9 bushels per acre.

For the week ending Sept. 25, 2016, the most recent report available when this story went to press, the NASS reported the state's soybeans condition rated 3 percent very poor, 10 poor, 26 fair, 50 good, and 11 excellent. Harvested was 11 percent, behind last year at the same time's 17 percent.

NASS reported that as of Sept. 1, there were 41.6 million bushels of soybeans stored on farms, down 16 percent from 2015, and 155 million bushels off-farm, up 10 percent from last September. The U.S. soybean disappearance during June-August totaled 675 million bushels, up 55 percent from the same period last year.

Matt Bainbridge, a farmer who has land west of Ethan, said he was hoping to yield about 40 bushels per acre, and was anticipating being below his operation's average, but hadn't started harvest yet at the end of September.

"Spring was so wet that we had a difficult time planting, and then June was so dry," Bainbridge said. "We're hoping the beans are still all right, but I guess we'll find out when we get out there."

A recent Bloomberg story says "Corn futures fell to a seven-week low and soybeans plunged the most in six years after the U.S. unexpectedly raised its crop forecasts, citing higher yields than anticipated." And Bainbridge said this means farmers across the state have taken a hit because of it.

"It means a lot less income for us. Our yields will be down, and the price is way down," Bainbridge, who farms about 2,700 acres, said. "It makes things really tight and in a lot of cases people are losing significant money this year."

But demand is typically strong, with 60 percent of South Dakota soybeans being exported annually, Freking said. About 60 million metric tons, or 27 percent of all soybeans grown nationally, go to China.

Bainbridge said he hopes the demand is able to drive prices up.

"They'll be enticed by lower prices and hopefully that demand will help out, but it will take a little while to get through the supply."