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SD corn yields below record highs forecasted nationwide

Gary Blindauer, 64, of Letcher, harvests corn on Oct. 3 on Ed Blindauer's farm east of Letcher. (Jake Shama/Republic)1 / 3
Ed Blindauer, 36, of Letcher, prepares an augur on Oct. 3 on his farm east of Letcher before corn harvest. (Jake Shama/Republic)2 / 3
John Blindauer, 21, of Letcher, prepares an augur on Oct. 3 on Ed Blindauer's farm east of Letcher before corn harvest. (Jake Shama/Republic)3 / 3

LETCHER — On his first day of harvest, Ed Blindauer tinkered with his augur to get it ready after a dry growing season that lasted longer than usual.

"The first field of corn I planted was Mother's Day," Blindauer said. "We were slow getting started."

Blindauer, 36, has been farming near Letcher since he was in high school, and his family has lived in the area for more than 100 years.

Blindauer was one of many farmers who didn't begin harvesting corn this year until October. He said wet weather in spring caused him to be late getting the crops into the ground, and recent rains have caused problems for his neighbors trying to get them out.

The rain near Letcher was out of the ordinary. Across South Dakota, dry conditions in the final week of September spurred fall harvest activity, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

During a "rain-free, relatively warm week," there were 6.7 days suitable for field work, but soybean harvest showed the most progress, the Oct. 3 report said.

In South Dakota, 9 percent of corn is considered excellent, 45 percent is good, 29 percent is fair, 13 percent is poor, and 4 percent is very poor, according to the early-October NASS report released.

Corn mature was 80 percent, ahead of 75 percent at the same time last year and higher than the five-year average of 77 percent.

As of Sunday, 12 percent of corn was harvested, which is 1 percent higher than last year but far behind the average of 20 percent harvested.

Based on Sept. 1 conditions, which was the most recent report available when this edition went to press, South Dakota's corn crop forecast at 753 million bushels, down 6 percent from last year, according to another NASS report released Sept. 12, despite a rise in total corn acres.

Acreage to be harvested for grain is estimated at 5.3 million acres, 5 percent higher than 2015, according to the report. Yield is forecasted at 142 bushels per acre, down 17 bushels per acre from last year's record high.

Will Walter, head of the Farm Business Management department at Mitchell Technical Institute, said corn completes is pollination and other major biological processes in July. The hot, dry weather this July in the area hindered the potential for high corn yields.

"If you can get a couple inches of rain on the Fourth of July, that really enhances your corn yield, and we just plain didn't get that," Walter said.

Reasonable amounts of rain fell in August in central South Dakota, but Walter said it provided more benefit to the soybean crop, as it came a little too late to significantly boost corn yields.

"This will be the second year in a row we've had reasonable rain in August in the general area, and it's really made a decent bean crop," Walter said. "I've heard some people comment that their beans might out yield the corn, and I don't think that's too far of an exaggeration."

Since corn generally yields 100 bushels per acre or more higher than soybeans, corn that yields so low may have already been cut for silage, Walter said.

Nationwide, corn production is forecast at 15.1 billion bushels, up 11 percent from last year, according to NASS.

Based on conditions as of Sept. 1, national corn yields are expected to average 174.4 bushels per acre, up 6 bushels per acre from 2015.

"If realized, this will be the highest yield and production on record for the United States," the report said.

The area harvested for corn is forecast at 86.6 million acres, 7 percent higher than 2015.

Soybean production is also forecasted to be at record levels at 4.2 billion bushels, with a record 60.6 bushels per acre, harvested from 83 million acres.

The majority of South Dakota soybeans are rated good or excellent and are being harvested at the normal rate.

On Sept. 30, the price of corn in Mitchell was $2.83 per bushel, Walter said. Based on cash rent in Davison and Hanson counties, he said the average corn input cost is $540 per acre, meaning farmers need 191 bushels of corn to break even. While he said that's possible in areas around Brookings, he would be surprised if any fields produced yields that high in the Mitchell area.

By comparison, soybeans only need 46.24 bushels per acre, which Walter believes is "quite attainable."

Walter said many farmers may have missed on a little extra income, as prices did rise a bit over the summer, but he said it's best not to worry about missed opportunities or to watch the day-to-day market projections.

Blindauer said whether he breaks even on his corn fields is dependent on how many bushels he gets out of the field.

"Hopefully next year's better. You're not going to hit a home run every year," he said.

Blindauer said he intends to keep going on the same path next year.

"Just plant some beans. Plant some corn. Feed some cattle. That's all you can do," Blindauer said. "It's not the easiest life, but somebody's got to do it."