The fall harvest season has been almost unbelievable in the Upper Midwest during the last week of September, and the entire first half of October with near-perfect weather conditions. In fact, the long string of very warm, sunny days, with very low humidity – and virtually no precipitation – has been almost too perfect. These very unusual harvest conditions have lead to corn  and soybeans  drying down too fast, poor fall tillage  conditions and a very high danger for field fires. The extremely warm, dry weather pattern has resulted in a rapid completion to soybean harvest , and major progress on corn harvest .
As of Oct. 10, soybean harvest was nearly complete in many portions of southern and western Minnesota, except for some areas with later-planted soybeans. Overall, most reported soybean yields for 2011 were average to below average, with yields in the eastern and southern portions on of south-central and southeast Minnesota being slightly higher. The whole-field yields in most other areas were a bit disappointing, due to late planting in some areas, the lost acres from the heavy rains across the region in late June, the lack of timely rainfall in August, and the early frost on Sept. 15 .
It was not unusual, to hear of yield monitor and weigh wagon yields in south-central and southeast Minnesota that were in the high 50s, or above 60 bu./acre, however many whole-field and whole-farm yields were lower, due to the wide variation of field conditions that existed this year. Producers in the highest-producing areas had whole-field yields in the 47-55-bu./acre range, while most producers in areas that were impacted by weather issues in 2011 had soybean yields that were more typically in a range from 30 to 45 bu. – 5-15 bu. below average for many producers.
Corn harvest has also progressed rapidly in most portions of southern Minnesota, with nearly 50% of the corn harvested at some locations as of Oct. 10. Corn harvest is a bit slower in areas that had extremely late planting this past spring. Corn yields across the region have been highly variable, which is likely to continue as harvest progresses. There have been isolated whole-field yield reports of over 200 bu./acre; however, there have also been yield reports of 140-160 bu. in the same general area, with even lower yields in some locations. Differences in planting date, corn hybrid, crop rotation, soil type, storm damage, timely rainfalls and the early frost, all account for those differences; however, there has not been a lot of consistency to the yield variation.
When the 2011 corn harvest is completed, farm operators in southern Minnesota will likely end up with yields that range from well below average to slightly above average, but far below the yield expectations that existed mid-summer. Producers in portions of west-central Minnesota, which received major impacts from late planting and the early frost, could experience some of their lowest corn yields in several years. Some stalk breakage and downed corn has been reported in some areas.
The good news for all producers regarding the 2011 corn harvest is the low moisture of the corn coming out of the field, and the high quality of the corn. Most of the corn being harvested in south-central Minnesota in the past two weeks has been at 13-17% moisture, meaning it can go directly to grain bins without additional drying, or can be hauled to grain purchasers with very little price dockage for excess kernel moisture. The rapid field drydown of the corn is saving most producers $25-30/acre in anticipated corn drying costs. Most of the corn being harvested has a test weight that is at or above the standard test weight for corn of 56 lbs./bu.
The rapid drydown of soybeans this fall has lead to some hidden costs for farm operators. Many of the soybeans this year were harvested at a field moisture content of 8-10% moisture, which is well below the desired moisture content of 12-14%. Harvest losses during combining increase significantly at those very low moisture contents, with harvest losses of 2-4 bu./acre not unusual when harvesting below 10% moisture. The biggest loss may be when soybeans are sold at grain elevators. Soybeans are priced on the basis of 13% moisture. When soybeans are sold below that level, the producer loses the value of the extra weight that is lost. For example, selling soybeans at 8-9% moisture, compared to 13% moisture, results in a loss of approximately 50-60¢/bu., at a soybean price of $11/bu. There are also losses when corn that is below the standard of 15% moisture content is delivered to grain elevators and ethanol plants.
Remember Farm Safety
There have been several serious highway accidents involving farm machinery reported in the past couple of weeks. Producers are reminded to keep farm safety on the brain for their families, their employees and themselves, as they hurry to finish the 2011 harvest season. The general public also needs to take extra caution around slow-moving farm machinery and trucks when driving on state and county highways during the fall harvest season, especially early in the morning and in the late afternoon. Part of that extra caution means staying off cell phones and being extra attentive on rural roads. A little extra caution can go a long way toward preventing a tragic farm accident or a serious traffic accident on rural highways.
The fire danger across the region remains extremely high, and there have been many reported field fires across the region. Farm operators need to use extra caution with farm machinery, grain trucks and other vehicles in the very dry fields. They also need to make sure that fire extinguishers are working properly and take other necessary fire safety precautions. The general public must also take care not to accidentally ignite a fire near farm fields or in other rural areas.
Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at [email protected]