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How's harvest going? Lack of timely rains major factor in spotty yields for 2022 South Dakota harvest

Drought conditions easing, but weather was hit or miss for most producers

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A combine harvester drives through a field in a field on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, east of Mount Vernon.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — What started out as a promising 2022 growing season has had its expectations cut down significantly after rains failed to fall at the right times, producers say.

Work in the field is just getting underway, but early indicators suggest crop conditions and yields will be all over the map.

“Most guys have gone into one field or two to test it out, but they're finding it’s all across the board,” said David Klingberg, executive director for the Davison County and Hanson County USDA Farm Services Agency offices. “They’ve seen some pretty dry corn, and the same with soybeans. It was just a race for which crop is going to get dry enough first, and then both got dry and now some is even too dry.”

Despite some relief from prevailing drought conditions in the forms of summer rains this season, overall rainfall has been down over the summer. Weather patterns resulted in spotty precipitation, with heavy rains falling on occasion over some fields and rarely over others.

Overall, enough rain fell to reduce the drought impact on the state overall, with 21.31% of the state now experiencing no drought conditions, compared with only 7.06% at the start of the 2022 calendar year. But the summer rains hit early and then eased off. Areas experiencing no drought in the state climbed as high as 45.49% as recently as three months ago, before falling again, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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After that, the rains were much less consistent, and it’s showing its effect on what is coming out of the field now, which varies widely depending on location, Klingberg said. Corn yields in the area are ranging from single digits to as high as 200 in some places.

“I’ve talked to a few guys, and some on the southern end (of Davison and Hanson counties) have already had their adjuster out there and have appraised it at 5 bushels per acre, so pretty poor. It’s not worth their fuel to harvest it,” Klingberg said. “In the middle it looks better and better, and getting on north it looks pretty good. Some guys are saying they might be able to make 200 bushels over the year. Just because they caught those timely rains.”

That appears to be true across a good portion of the region, with rains hitting or missing during the prime growing portion of the season.

“It seems like some people are in the exact right spot to catch every rain that comes through, and some people can’t catch a sprinkle to save their life,” Klingberg said.

Some of those who have gotten into the field to harvest soybeans have reported yields in the area of 50 to 55 bushels per acre, but Klingberg said that was still an early sample size and not necessarily indicative of overall soybean conditions.

As with any year, the amount of precipitation often dictates how the growing season will go. Farmers were a little more optimistic about the season going into it, Klingberg said, but the needed rains never fully developed around the state.

“Most guys were pretty positive when they started the year. We had some moisture, good but not great, but we were doing OK. Then early on there was a dry spell when guys were starting to plan and think it might be a tough year,” Klingberg said. “And then we caught rains countywide, and then it backed off into early summer. Had it continued on it would have looked great. But the spigot turned off.”

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Drought conditions in South Dakota have eased off in the past year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
U.S. Drought Monitor Graphic

The weekly crop report for the USDA released Oct. 3 noted that topsoil moisture supplies were rated at 37% very short, 43% short, 18% adequate and 2% surplus. Subsoil moisture was similar, measuring at 30% very short, 49% short, 19% adequate and 2% surplus.

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In terms of crop condition, South Dakota corn was reported as 10% very poor, 21% poor, 31% fair, 34% good and 4% excellent. For soybeans, the numbers came in at 8% very poor, 19% poor, 36% fair, 36% good and 1% excellent.

While farmers may have gotten a bit of a late start compared to last year, they are apparently ahead of the 5-year average, with 9% of corn harvested at this time last year compared to 8% this year and 5% being the 2017-2021 average. For soybeans, 9% is out of the field in 2022 compared to 15% last year and 11% for the 2017-2021 average.

Klingberg said planting conditions allowed many farmers to plant fencerow to fencerow, which added to the early optimism for the season, but yields may fall short because of the precipitation.

“(Current conditions) don’t make for great combining, but they’re not having to fight the mud. Most were able to plant fencerow to fencerow, which is why it was so positive at the beginning,” Klingberg said. “But what comes out of that yield could be little.”

Results ranging from surprising to disappointing

Dan Graber, who farms with his brother and father near Freeman, said with the dry conditions most of the summer, he considered himself lucky with the results they had seen so far in the field.

“We took out some corn and had a 115 bushel per acre average, and I don’t know where the hell it came from. It never rained,” Graber said. “It was surprising. We were hoping for 70.”

He said they had only gotten through about 100 acres of soybeans and had seen roughly 28 to 30 bushels per acre, which he also considered better than expected due to the conditions. He guessed that wouldn’t be far off what other producers in the area would see, as well.

He said one fact that may have helped their results this year was a recent switch to no-till practices.

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“I do attribute that to getting an extra 20 to 30 bushels (on corn). We have gone completely no-till and adopted those practices, as well as using some cover crop, so none of our fields were blowing like they were last year,” Graber said. “Some guys would lose as much as a half inch of subsoil moisture with all the fields blowing.”

Even with the benefits of no-till, he figured they were seeing lower corn yield numbers than in 2021. They pulled in around 135 to 140 bushels per acre last year, and he credited that to timely rains that fell when the crops needed it.

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A tractor and a grain cart sit in a field on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, east of Mount Vernon.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Cathy Eichacker, who farms with her husband Steve near Salem, said they got underway with harvest about two weeks ago, and she’s expecting results to be below what they were hoping for at the beginning of the season.

“Our crop is probably going to be about half of what it should be. The grain cart driver and the semi driver have a lot of down time,” Eichacker said. “We’ve had kind of a double sword here with all the storms.”

Farmers in her area have had more than their share of bad luck this season. In addition to unreliable rains, they endured a pair of derechos that stormed through the area. The winds that came with them were strong enough to damage corn bins and cause extensive damage in Salem itself, but it also wreaked havoc on their field crops.

“We’ve been lacking moisture, but getting hit by two derechos, with the first hitting us pretty hard. It was devastating for our area. We have several farms hit, and then that’s all we did all summer was rebuild and repair,” Eichacker said. “Then the second one went through with that wind, and we had quite a bit of hail in our area, so that pretty much took the top end of the yield.”

She said she wasn’t sure on what the exact yield numbers her crew was seeing in the field, but she knew it would be disappointing compared to expectations.

“I don’t want to even ask the boys,” Eichacker said with a chuckle.

Klingberg said some producers were a little short on hay and may be looking to purchase some or use corn stalks when needed, but Graber and Eichacker, both of whose operations include cattle, said they were sitting in relatively good shape. Eichacker said they had gotten three cuttings of alfalfa and chopped enough silage, and Graber said they had gotten cuttings of ditch hay when they could to supplement themselves.

Slow start accelerates thanks to warmer temperatures

It may be too late to help this year’s crop, but Klingberg said some rains once work wraps up with harvest could go a long way to helping conditions in the spring by boosting the subsoil moisture.

“Most guys wouldn’t mind a rain - but not right now. It’s too late for this year, but they wouldn’t mind it for some subsoil moisture,” Klingberg said.

Eichacker said they figured to wrap up harvest a little earlier than normal, which will be good to catch up on other farm work, as well as make it possible to enjoy some autumn activities.

“I think the boys will be able to go pheasant hunting. It will be an early harvest, and then other things can get done on the farm,” Eichacker said.

Graber said they were about a quarter through their harvest work, and after a light rain predicted for his area coming up, he said it would be straight on to the end of the season.

“We’re going to get a little rain tomorrow, but after that I think everything will be ready. It will be pick a field and go,” Graber said.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURESOUTH DAKOTA
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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