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2012 Harvest Progress

Written by: Kent Thiesse

Corn and soybean harvest is progressing at a very rapid rate in most portions of Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa, as a result of almost perfect harvest conditions. As of September 21, harvest progress for both corn and soybeans was at 25-50 percent completed in much of South Central and Southwest Minnesota. This level of harvest progress is more typical of mid-late October than late September. Most of the crops have matured beyond any potential damage from a killing frost.


“Variability” is probably the term that best describes the 2012 crop yields. That variability is from farm-to-farm, field-to-field, in the same field, and even during the same trip across the field. Producers report corn yield variations from 20 bushels per acre to well over 200 bushels per acre in the same trip across the field. Similar variation has been reported with soybean yields. In addition to yield variation from the drought conditions during July and August, there were also considerable drowned-out areas in some fields across Southern Minnesota from the heavy rainfall events during May.


The early soybean yield reports in South Central Minnesota have generally been better than expected, considering the extremely dry weather in July and August. Many yield monitor and weigh-wagon soybean yields of 45-60 bushels per acre have been reported across the region. Of course, one must remember that “whole field” yields are determined by dividing total bushels harvested by the total acres in a field that were planted last Spring. That means that any drowned out areas of the field, or other acres with reduced yields, need to be factored in to the final yield calculation. In some cases this will significantly lower the final “whole field” yields. In areas with lighter soils that were more severely impacted by the drought, soybean yields of 30-40 bushels per acre have been more common.


Corn harvest has also been progressing at a rapid rate in many areas, with the corn harvest pace exceeding soybean harvest at many locations. Nearly all corn in Southern Minnesota has reached physiological maturity, or “black-layer”, and has been drying down naturally in the field. Most of corn in the field has now reached 15-25 percent kernel moisture, and continues to dry down in the field. Ideally, corn needs to be dried down to about 15-16 percent moisture for safe storage in on-farm grain bins until next Spring or Summer. Many producers are now harvesting their 2012 corn crop with a very limited amount of supplemental corn drying. This could save many farm operators approximately $20.00-$30.00 per acre in anticipated corn drying costs for 2012.


Stalk quality and strength has been a major concern with the 2012 corn crop in many areas of Southern Minnesota, with significant stalk breakage and ear droppage already occurring in some fields. The very warm growing season and rapid maturity process for corn has likely lead to weakening of corn stalks in some corn hybrids across the region. There was also corn damaged by strong winds and hail earlier in the growing season, which has lead to weaker stalks and late season development of stalk rots. Growers in affected areas are adjusting their 2012 harvest schedule accordingly.


Fall tillage has been a little slow to occur in many areas, due the extremely dry top soil conditions. This type of soil situation makes it difficult for quality tillage, and requires more fuel for tillage operations. If the dry soil conditions persist through October, it will make for very poor soil conditions for Fall applications of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, due to potential nitrogen losses. A few inches of rain in the next several weeks would be welcomed by most farmers, as they look ahead to Fall tillage and fertilizer applications.



Most of Southern and Western Minnesota remains in severe to extreme drought conditions, according to the latest data released by the U.S. Drought Monitor. In mid-September at the University of Minnesota Ag Research Center at Waseca, measurements indicated only 2.36 inches of stored soil moisture in the top five feet of soil, which is only 21 percent of capacity. Most of this stored soil moisture was in the lower portions of the soil profile. This is the lowest level of stored soil moisture at Waseca since 1988, when stored soil moisture level dropped to 1.97 inches. This could become a concern for the 2013 crop year, if the dry weather pattern and lack of re-charge for stored soil moisture continues throughout the fall months and into early 2013.