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Yields up, prices down on SD farms in 2013

South Dakota farmers had better yields in 2013, but dealt with lower prices when it came to selling their crops, according to a report released Wednesday by the South Dakota Center for Farm and Ranch Management at Mitchell Technical Institute.

Yields for corn went up 77 percent compared to 2012 levels. Soybean yields were up 59 percent over the prior year. But the difference was felt with harvest prices. In 2013, the average harvest price for corn was $3.85 and $12.15 for soybeans. That was down 45 percent from $7 for corn in 2012 and $15 for soybeans, a 19 percent drop.

MTI Farm Management Program Instructor Will Walter said the low prices follow a nationwide trend. He said expenses put into crops for the coming year are the chief item to watch.

"That's still the big thing," Walter said. "We still have to control our costs. That really does hold the key to everything else."

The costs were most apparent regarding the return over cost per acre for corn, which was the lowest it has been in six years at $107.69 per acre. In 2012, it was $304.81.

Walter said seed, fertilizer and pesticides are the easiest places where costs can get away from a farmer.

"On cash-rented ground, the highest returning 20 percent and the lowest returning 20 percent fields each had an average yield of 147 bushels per acre," he said. "The difference was that the highest 20 percent had $213 less expense. That low 20 percent spent $96 more per acre on seed, fertilizer and pesticides."

For the first time in four years, soybeans provided a higher return per acre than corn. The average acre of soybeans brought $190 per acre, while corn was at $108 per acre.

Alfalfa was the state's most profitable crop in 2013, mainly because of the adequate rainfall in the state, the hot weather and a strong demand for hay. The crop brought an average of $327 per acre.

"We have all three of those in our state," Walter said. "That wasn't a problem."

Wheat had lower yields and lower prices to produce a substantial drop in return per acre. Winter wheat, after a great year in 2012, showed a 64 percent drop in return per acre at $114. Spring wheat experienced a 77 percent decrease with a return per acre of just $34. Oats, a smaller player in recent years, obtained a $142 return per acre in 2013 from the fields represented in the program, which is based on about 90 participants in the school's Farm Business Management program from across the state.

As for a 2014 outlook, Walter said the commodity prices have already improved some.