The hot, dry weather that started in early July has continued through the rest of the growing season in our area of the U.S. Midwest. We have received very little moisture since late July, and that is impacting crop yields.
The earliest of our soybeans will likely be ready to harvest by the last week of September. They have turned yellow and leaves are dropping. Our later-planted soybeans are still green. Any rain we get before they start to yellow could help improve those yields.
It is hard to predict yields before we start combining soybeans, but I expect that yields will be below average this year because of the driest season we’ve had in years. We are waiting to see what we will find.
However, we are harvesting all our corn first. We plant one corn hybrid that matures earlier than everything else. That helps us spread out the harvest workload, and it still yields well.
This year, we started picking corn the last week of August, about a week earlier than average, due to the dry weather. We will likely be ready to switch to combining soybeans in early October, depending on equipment breakdowns and the weather.
So far, our corn yields have been about 1.9 to 2.5 metric tons (MT) per hectare, or 30 to 40 bushels per acre, below average. Some fields are doing better than others, and we are moving between fields often as we look for the corn with the lowest moisture content in the kernels to harvest next.
During harvest, either my brother Gene or I am running the combine, the machine that picks and shells both our soybeans and corn. The other one of us or another helper drives the grain cart, which delivers the grain from the combine in the middle of the field to a semitruck on the edge of the field. My brother Clark manages the trucking and our grain handling system. He ensures that we can dry and store the grain until we are ready to deliver it to customers.
At the same time, my nephew Jordan is planting cereal rye as a cover crop into the corn fields we have harvested. We have had success with cover crops in fields that have been planted to corn and will be planted with soybeans the next season. We have yet to decide how much soybean ground, if any, we will plant with cover crops. We have been experimenting each year to figure out ways to successfully grow cover crops on soybean fields that will be planted to corn next season.
We took a short break from harvest and planting cover crops on September 21, when we hosted a U.S. Department of Agriculture official and others on our farm. Robert Bonnie, the USDA undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, highlighted a significant grant that has recently been awarded to a group of farmer-led organizations to promote climate-smart agricultural practices, especially cover crops. Ultimately, the grant will encourage use of cover crops, and it may help us continue experimenting to improve our use of cover crops, especially following soybeans.
While we store most of our crop after harvest, we do sell some as we harvest. We have been delivering some corn to a nearby feed mill this month. In October, some of our soybeans will be delivered via truck either from the field or from our storage facility to a river terminal on the Mississippi River near St. Louis, where it will immediately be loaded on a barge for export. That’s about a 330-km, or just over a 200-mile trip. We value the transportation infrastructure that allows us to easily send our soybeans to customers around the world.
Although we are focused on harvest, we are also starting to plan for the 2023 season. We’ve secured some of the fertilizer we will need next season, including poultry litter and anhydrous. We will apply that fertilizer where it is needed later in the fall, when temperatures are cool enough that the nutrients are most likely to stay in place until next spring.
Our ability to gather and transport this year’s crop while planning for next season is part of what allows me and other U.S. farmers to provide a reliable supply of soy, regardless of weather challenges.