The 2012 harvest season is wrapping up at one of the earliest dates in most people's memory. Part of this is due to the drought that has plagued us for the past year or so. The U.S. Drought Index has all of southwest and south-central Minnesota in the extreme drought category. Approximately 85% of the corn and soybean producing areas of the U.S. are experiencing some level of drought.
The continued drought across the region is certainly a concern as we look forward to the 2013 growing season. Stored soil moisture levels across the region are at historically low levels. Most reporting stations have only one to two inches of stored soil moisture in the top five feet of soil, compared to normal levels of six to seven inches of stored soil moisture in early October. The ongoing drought conditions are also highly visible with the extremely low levels of lakes, rivers, and streams across Southern Minnesota.
The fall harvest season has been almost unbelievable in the Upper Midwest during September and early October, with almost perfect fall harvest 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 2012 harvest conditions has 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 of both soybean and corn harvest in most areas.
Tina LeBrun and Wayne Schoper
As of October 10, soybean harvest was virtually completed in most portions of southern and western Minnesota, except for some areas with later planted soybeans. Overall, most reported soybean yields for 2012 were average to slightly below average, with yields in the eastern portions of South Central Minnesota and in Southeast Minnesota being slightly higher. The "whole-field" yields in most other areas were better than expected, given the ongoing drought conditions during the 2012 growing season, but were generally slightly below long term average yields.
Corn harvest has also progressed rapidly in most portions of Southern Minnesota, with nearly 80-90 percent of the corn harvested at many locations, as of October 8. Corn yields across the region have been highly variable in 2012, as a result of the widespread rainfall events at various locations during the growing season. There have been isolated "whole field" yield reports of over 200 bushels per acre; however, there have also been yield reports of 120-130 bushels per acre in the same general area, with even lower yields in some locations. Differences in planting date, corn hybrid, crop rotation, soil type, and storm damage have also helped account for some of this yield variation. When the 2012 corn harvest is completed, farm operators in Southern Minnesota will likely end up with yields that range from near average to 20-25 percent below average, depending on field conditions.
The good news for all producers regarding the 2012 corn harvest is the low harvest 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 few weeks has been at 13-17 percent moisture, meaning it can go directly to farm grain bins without additional drying, or can be hauled to grain purchasers with very little price dockage for excess kernel moisture. The rapid field dry down of the corn is saving most producers $25.00-$30.00 per 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 pounds per bushel.
(Kent Theisse, VP of MinnStar Lake Crystal, contributed to this article)