Sun setting on 2021 South Dakota harvest as corn nearly done, soybeans all wrapped up

Drought conditions linger, winter outlook indicates no clear relief

A field is harvested on Tuesday afternoon just Northeast of Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade
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The number of combines in the field has been dwindling for weeks, and only a few remain in action as the 2021 South Dakota harvest season winds to a close with soybeans completely out of the field and corn fast approaching that mark.

According to recent numbers from the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service , 93% of corn in South Dakota had been harvested, which is slightly behind the 99% that was harvested at this time in 2020, but ahead of the 87% five-year average. Soybeans, according to the service, are now 100% out of the field.

Deanna Bennett, county executive director for the Aurora County and Douglas County Farm Service Agency, said those figures jibe with what she has seen in her coverage territory, with corn perhaps even a little further along than indicated by the latest report.

“If not a little higher. Things are pretty well wrapped up,” Bennett told the Mitchell Republic. “The weather has been very conducive to getting things done.”


The sun begins to set as a farmer harvests on Tuesday afternoon Northeast of Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

And on top of it, yields and crop conditions have been as good as could be expected considering the up and down growing season.

“What I’ve heard from our producers is that it seems to be better than expected given the conditions this year. For as hot and dry as we were all summer, it seems like it could have been better but could have been much worse,” Bennett said. “I was kind of surprised.”

Farmers in South Dakota dealt with drought conditions throughout 2021, with the United States Drought Monitor seeing the state primarily in severe to extreme drought conditions for much of the season. That slowed crop development, but later rains helped push conditions in a more favorable direction.

The current drought monitor report shows that only 8.31% of the state is currently experiencing severe drought conditions or worse. That has softened considerably in the last three months, when it was reported that 74.10% of the state was experiencing that level of drought.

The United States Drought Monitor on Nov. 23 released its most recent drought conditions report for South Dakota. (Submitted Photo)

The USDA reports that current topsoil moisture supplies were rated 8% as very short, 23% as short, 64% as adequate and 5% as surplus. For subsoil moisture supplies were rated 12% as very short, 32% as short, 54% as adequate and 3% as surplus.


Though improving, soil moisture is still a concern, with some weighing the benefits and drawbacks of a snowy winter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outlook for winter 2021-22 in South Dakota indicates the majority of the western part of the state may see average temperatures 33% to 40% below normal temperatures, while the rest of the state is predicted to have an equal chance of being either above or below normal temperatures. That equal chance also extends to most of Nebraska and Minnesota as well as the western half of Iowa.

In terms of precipitation, all of South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and most of Minnesota are expected to have an equal chance of seeing above or below average moisture over the course of the winter.

“The new drought monitor came out this morning, and in Aurora County we’re still in D2, which is still severe,” Bennett said. “I hate to say we’re hoping for snow, (but it could help ease the dry conditions).”

NOAA also expects widespread to severe drought conditions to continue to dominate the western half of the continental United States, northern plains and the Missouri River basin, according to a report released in October.

The USDA reports that 94% of sorghum in South Dakota has been harvested, behind the 100% at this time last year but hovering near the 92% average. Sunflowers were reported at 90% harvested, close to the 88% at this time last year and ahead of the 80% average.

A field is harvested on Tuesday afternoon Northeast of Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade


For pasture and rangeland, conditions were reported at 29% very poor, 38% poor, 23% fair, 8% good and 2% excellent.

After a 2019 that saw extreme flooding dominate the South Dakota landscape , followed by a period of extended dryness, Bennett said timely moisture will be a key factor in bringing soil conditions and crop potential back to full strength.

It’s all a matter of timing, she said.

“(Moisture) would be good, but not in March and April when everyone is trying to plant,” Bennett said.

NOAA recently released its drought outlook for winter 2021-22. (Submitted Photo)

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
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