Yields all over the board in weird year for farmers

Kevin Mathison combined soybeans north of Mora. 

“This was the most difficult year and strangest harvest I’ve ever been associated with,” said Roger Peterson, seed dealer for Gold Country Seeds.

It was a difficult year for all crops including corn, soybeans and hay. This was particularly true on lighter sandy soils. Yields were much higher on heavier soils. 

“Farmers observed as much as 100 bushels per acre differences within 50 feet in the same field,” he said. 

Kevin Mathison who farms north of Mora agreed. “It was a weird year all the way around,” he said. 

“My combine yield monitor would read 200 bushels per acre and suddenly it would read zero. One area of the field would be tremendous, and the next area would be terrible. Yields were all over the board, so extreme. One farmer had good yields and the next one didn’t.

“2021 is a year to forget. We can’t get it behind us soon enough. We didn’t get much rain and my crop yields were only 50% of normal. The soybeans were too far gone and needed rain one month earlier. Yields ran around 25 bushels per acre for soybeans and 80- 100 bushels per acre for corn.”

Peterson pointed out that another factor that affected crop yields was where the rain fell. Mille Lacs and Pine County where they got more rain, yields were generally higher than in Kanabec County. 

Rick Stromberg who farms in Brunswick Township south of Mora has been selling Pioneer Seeds for 31 years agreed that it was a poor growing season on lighter ground due to the severe drought. 

“We hardly had two inches of rain between the end of May and end of August. The soybean yields on light sandy soils were terrible. My corn on heavier ground was wonderful. I got yields as high as 160 to 190 bushels per acre. I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. 

He sells seed to farmers in four counties. He said that farmers with heavier soils south, east, and west of him and who got more timely rains had some very good crop yields. However, it was very sporadic and depended on where the rain fell and the type of soil the crop was growing in. 

“The storms seemed to go all around us,” he added. 

Nancy Rys who farms with her husband Tom east of Rock Creek in Pine County and who also dry, store and truck grain for 20 area farmers and sell Pioneer Seed said, “We have seen surprisingly good yields in southern Pine and northern Chisago counties. We are very fortunate to get the yields that we’ve seen for the moisture we received in this drought.” 

She added that corn yields ranged from 160 to 220 bushels per acre on heavy soils and below 100 bushels per acre on lighter soils. Corn moisture levels have been in the upper teens with a few near 20%. They did dry a fair amount of soybeans which is normal. Test weights have been tremendous in the upper 50s and near 60 bushels per acre. 

Jacob Stegner, who manages the McVay Farms between Mora and Ogilvie said that their corn and soybean yields were down 50-60% and hay yields down 30-40%. 

They harvested all their corn for silage for their beef cow/calf herd so they did not have any extra that they could sell for grain. They were thankful that they have enough corn silage and hay to feed their herd through the winter. 

He added that the drought was severe, but they are thankful that they got through it as well as they did. 

On the positive side, the dry summer allowed them to repair their fences in low areas. The long, dry fall also allowed them to finish harvest before the snow came. 

Another factor affecting crop yields was crop maturity. In September when it finally did rain, later corn and soybean varieties benefited dramatically.”

The late rain was a big help and resulted in higher yields,” said Peterson. 

He pointed out that still another factor that helped crops to withstand this summer’s drought are the genetics in crop varieties. They have been improved in their rooting ability and are more water efficient. In other words, it takes less water to produce the same amount of grain. 

Also, the variety biotechnology traits have helped crops to withstand insect pests. 

“That’s why companies have invested millions in crop research,” added Peterson. “Weed control is also better today than years ago.”

Stromberg concurred when he compared his corn yields to the bad drought of 1988 when he had 30 bushels per acre of corn. Thirty years ago, you would end up with nothing. This year was as bad of a drought as in ‘88, but the genetics have improved enough to compensate for the lack of moisture. “Genetics played a huge part,” he added.

Small grain crops were terrible. 

“They did not have enough water to stool and new seedings had a hard time to get established,” added Peterson. 

“The pandemic also created more stress on everybody. Everyone is ready for it to end.” 

Stromberg thought that 99% of the soybeans and about 80% of the corn had been harvested in the area prior to the first snowfall.

Both his corn and soybeans were very dry at harvest and did not take much drying. His corn averaged 15-17% moisture (15.5% is ideal for storage). It did not take long to dry, and it was good to not have to buy gas for drying. 

Fertilizer prices have increased two and one half to three times what they were last year. Nitrogen was $400 per ton last year and now is at $1,000 per ton. Chemicals are also in short supply. 

“We weren’t far off,” added Mathison.“Just a few more rains would have helped. The hot windy weather really hurt. We can only hope for a better year next year. Crop prices are decent, but it would have been nice to have a crop.”

Next season 

For next year Stromberg said, “Soil moistures are extremely depleted, and it will take a lot of rain next year between June and August. We can only hope that we don’t get a drought again next year.” 

Rys agreed that we will need rain to replenish the subsoil moisture or next year could be different. “There are good marketing opportunities out there to help offset the high input costs. “Marketing is just as important as growing the crop,” she concluded. 

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