Sustainability

Ground Work 2021: North Dakota Soybean Yields Lower Than Expected

A month into harvest, we are seeing the results of a challenging season. Farmers in our area of the Northern Plains of the U.S. expected below average yields due to drought. With less than a week of soybean harvest to go, and about one-third of corn harvest done, yields for both crops have been consistently lower than our most conservative expectations, and that’s disappointing.

Though we had ideal conditions for planting and some of our fields received timely rains, the extremely hot, dry months of July and August hurt our crops. The soil-replenishing rains received in late August and throughout September unfortunately arrived too late to make a difference.

Our yields do vary depending on the field. Fields that got timely rains or were not planted last year due to extremely wet conditions are yielding better than other fields, but overall yields are less than expected based on how the crop looked. In our soybeans, many pods were not able to fill in the hot, dry conditions. And, current rains have caused previously dry soybeans to swell and pop out of their pods, falling to the ground so they can’t be harvested.

So far during harvest, we have received rains every week or two that keep us out of the field. For example, during the second weekend of October, we got about 10 cm, or 4 inches, of rain. The dry soils that reduced yields have been saturated, and we now have areas of standing water, which we haven’t seen for more than a year.

The weather has changed our approach to harvest this year. Instead of picking all our soybeans and then switching to corn, our crew has been harvesting both crops at the same time. On days we are at full speed, we are harvesting between 320 to 365 hectares, or 800 to 900 acres, of soybeans, along with between 80 and 105 hectares, or 200 to 260 acres, of corn. I usually am running one of our combines.

Our soybeans have been about the right moisture for harvest and storage. The moisture of our corn has been between 19 and 24%, and we store it at about 15% moisture. Warm fall weather helps the corn dry, so that we need less fuel to dry it for storage.

That weather has also delayed our first frost. Usually, we get our first frost in late September, but this year we will likely not get frost until late October or early November. These warmer temperatures will continue to help us harvest our crop. We will likely need another month to finish, but hopefully we will be done before the weather gets really cold.

Once we finish cutting soybeans, we plan to start fall tillage, which allows our soils to warm up in the spring. Though our approach to harvest means we will start tillage later than average, we still expect to have time to get fall fieldwork done.

The drought this season affected us more than we realized, and reports we’ve heard from throughout the region echo that experience. Current crop prices and careful management will help us cope with this tough year. And we will hope that next year is better, as we continue to provide a reliable, sustainable supply of U.S. soy.

This field update is funded by the soybean checkoff. To share or republish part or all of this Ground Work 2021 update, please link to the original article and credit www.USSOY.org.

Matt Gast

Matt Gast is a first-generation farmer from Valley City, North Dakota, where he grows soybeans and corn. He serves as a United Soybean Board director and is also involved with the North Dakota Soybean Council. One of his goals for the farm is ensuring its longevity for his three sons: Jackson, Bentley and Easton. He’s interested in sustainability on his farm and for all U.S. soybean farmers.