In our area of the U.S. Midwest, the 2022 growing season started with plenty of moisture. We planted crops in April and May, and our soybeans got a strong start. But then, in July, the weather became hot and dry, and that lasted the rest of the season, impacting our management decisions.
After July, we had very low expectations for our yields.
Corn harvest started on August 25, about a week earlier than normal, with below-average yields. As expected, we started harvesting soybeans during the last few days of September. We finished on October 17, a couple weeks earlier than usual. During that time, we had just two days we weren’t able to run the combine. We needed parts one day, and we were rained out another day. Other than that, harvest ran very smoothly.
When we finished, we were pleased to find that our soybeans yielded better than expected. Across our farm, our average soybean yield was just 70 to 130 kg per hectare, or 1 to 2 bushels per acre, below average.
I attribute such strong yield to several factors. Our soybean genetics and technology have improved significantly. Plus, practices like conservation tillage and cover crops help our soils conserve moisture. We were blessed. 20 years ago, yields would have been a lot less with the conditions we experienced this year.
During harvest, we delivered a few semitrucks of soybeans to a Mississippi River terminal about 330 km, or just over 200 miles, from our farm. We also delivered some corn to our regional customers. We will deliver more of the 2022 crop during January to March.
The extremely low levels on the Mississippi River will likely change how we sell and deliver these soybeans. We usually choose to deliver our soybeans directly to a river terminal because even after paying freight charges to truck our soybeans, prices at the Mississippi River are higher than what local grain elevators offer. With barge traffic moving very slowly, that has changed.
Our local grain elevators now offer higher soybean prices, especially those that are rail terminals, equipped to load 110-car trains. Unless Mississippi River levels improve significantly, we will sell most of our soybeans to local rail terminals. Some of those soybeans will go to U.S. crushing plants. Other soybeans will go to export markets. Changing prices, demand and other factors will influence where those trains go, but the options include Mexico and U.S. ports in the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Coast.
Despite the challenges with the Mississippi River, we are fortunate to have infrastructure that provides alternate options, like our railways. With those options, we can continue to get a reliable supply of soybeans to our customers.
Since we finished harvest, we have been preparing for next season. Our cover crops have emerged in all the fields that will be planted to soybeans in 2023, and the day of rain we got during harvest helped it grow.
We repaired tiles, underground tubes that help our soils drain. We also repaired terraces, a feature in our fields that helps minimize soil erosion.
In fields that need phosphorus and potassium for next year’s crop, we have been spreading chicken litter from nearby poultry and egg farms. In our no-till system, we simply spread the solid litter on top of soybean stubble or cover crops just in the places where those nutrients are needed. Using poultry litter provides more organic matter than commercial fertilizer, but we may not be able to get all the poultry litter we need. We are in the process of deciding if we need to supplement with commercial phosphorus and potassium fertilizer in some fields.
In the fields that will be planted to corn next year, we are nearly halfway done applying nitrogen in the form of anhydrous ammonia, a pressurized liquid that vaporizes in the soil. We had to wait for soil temperatures to cool enough to keep the nutrients in place.
Based on what we saw in 2022, we are also planning the inputs we want to use in 2023. We are analyzing yield data for different soybean varieties and corn hybrids in our various soil types. Our goal is to start ordering seed while early discounts are available. We are also figuring out what herbicides we plan to use next season, so we can order products before January 1 to take advantage of early order discounts.
Our business and agronomic decisions play critical roles in our success, regardless of weather. Despite extremely dry conditions, our 2022 soybean crop was better than we expected. That proves that we have the technology and ability to raise a sustainable crop, making us a truly reliable soybean supplier.