Farmers in west central Minnesota are beginning to take in the corn and soybean harvest and are finding a wide range of variability in the crop yields.
"There are spots that are good and spots that are poor," John Mages re-ported Friday morning from the seat of his truck, having hauled a load of corn to the Bushmills Ethanol plant. Farmers in the area north of Atwater were getting a good start on the corn harvest, he said.
Mages, who farms in the Belgrade area and is president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, reported that he would start his harvest later Friday or today.
He said his neighbors were starting on the soybean harvest. With just a few fields through the combine, yields were in the mid-40 bushel range.
Doug Albin, who farms in the Clarkfield area, offered a similar report. He had not started the harvest, but reported that the neighbors were taking out both corn and soybeans and getting a feel for the harvest.
Corn yields varied from 120 to 190 bushels, with 20 to 22 percent moisture. The variability is significant, Albin said. With yield monitors showing per acre yields from 0 to 260 bushels in the same field.
"It's quite an assortment we've got out here," Albin said, noting that the corn will probably average between 150 to 175 bushels per acre, which considering the lack of rainfall since late June, is a pretty good overall yield.
This week, the USDA released its monthly crop production report, slightly lowering the drought-damaged national corn yield forecast to 10.73 billion bushels, or 122.8 bushels per acre. The expectation is 1 percent less than the August report, 13 percent less than 2011 and the smallest corn crop since 2006.
USDA reduced the soybean estimate to 2.63 billion bushels, down 2 percent since August, 14 percent less than 2011, the estimated per-acre yield for beans as of Sept. 1 is 35.3 bushels.
The report shows Minnesota's yield expectations increasing or holding steady. The expected corn harvest is 156 bushels per acre, one bushel greater than the August report, for a 1.28 billion-bushel harvest. The soybean harvest, a total of 262 million bushels and an average of 38 bushels per acre, is the same as the August report.
The drought conditions continue to envelop the mid-section of the country. As of Tuesday, 70 percent of the U.S. is experiencing drought conditions. The state data from the U.S. Drought Monitor show 83 percent of the state is experiencing some level of drought conditions, with extreme dry conditions in the southwest and south-central portions of the state.
Kandiyohi County has moved from the mildest drought rating of abnormally dry, in the Aug. 21 report, to moderate to extreme drought conditions with the Sept. 11 report.
Those dry conditions have farmers concerned about the stalks of the corn plants breaking, according to Wes Nelson, the executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County. The plants are stressed in the drought and the quick drying conditions, making producers be selective with which fields they choose to harvest.
The initial reports for the corn harvest are a bit better than farmers had expected, but Nelson still expects significant yield losses in areas with lighter soils and storm damage.
"Variability is the buzzword this year," he said, adding that given the fact that the area has received little or no rain since June, "it's amazing that we have the crop we do."