Row crop harvest speeding along in the Dakotas

ABERDEEN, S.D. -- An early start to spring planting and a hot summer that pushed crops to maturity has led to an early row crop harvest in the Dakotas.

"We should be finishing harvest in record time," South Dakota State University agronomy specialist Mark Rosenberg told the American News. "Instead of finishing by Thanksgiving, we will be done by Halloween."

The latest statistics from the federal Agriculture Department show that the soybean harvest is more than three-fourths complete in both South Dakota and North Dakota, when typically only about one-fifth of the crop would be in the bin at this time of the year. About one-third of the corn crop in North Dakota and half of the corn in South Dakota have been harvested, at a time when the corn harvest typically is just getting under way.

"Who ever heard of all the corn being done before the pheasant (hunting) opener?" South Dakota Wheat Growers agronomist David Clark said.

Yields, or bushels per acre, are surprisingly good, farmers and others say. Though the hot, dry summer hurt corn and soybeans overall, the crops held up better than expected thanks to generally good subsoil moisture and an occasional shower.

Astoria, S.D., farmer David Iverson told Agweek that a similar rapid harvest happened in 1988, but that year drought hurt soybeans. This year's crop is pretty good considering the weather, he said.

The corn crop in the Dakotas also seems to be faring well despite the lack of rain.

"Overall, I think farmers are surprised and very happy" with corn yields, Bart Schott, a Kulm, N.D., farmer and chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, told Agweek.

Market prices are strong, and the hot, dry conditions also have helped farmers financially.

"Only once in my life have I combined corn this dry," Wes Nolte, who farms near Webster, S.D., told the American News. "We are saving on drying costs."

Corn prices this fall average about a dollar a bushel more than a year ago at area elevators surveyed by Agweek. Soybean prices average $4 per bushel more this fall than a year ago. The good market prices combined with average or better yields will help many producers make strong profits.

"It should be an exceptional year (financially)," said Andy Swenson, farm management specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service. "We've had a string of pretty good years starting with 2007. This year looks to be very strong. I would not be surprised if it surpasses the net farm income (in North Dakota) of even these recent years."

The dry weather has been good for this year's harvest but it doesn't bode well for next year's crops, said SDSU climate field specialist Laura Edwards.

"The whole region has been excessively dry," she told the American News. "Our moisture carry-over is going to be an issue."

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows more than 82 percent of South Dakota in severe, extreme or exceptional drought. North Dakota is a little better off, with about half the state in severe or extreme drought and no areas in exceptional drought.

"I'd be glad to shut down (harvest) for a few days for 2 inches of rain," Jody Horner, who farmers near Napoleon, N.D., told Agweek.