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Harvest: Beans mostly binned; corn combining underway

photo by Gary Miller

Mike Beltz, Hillsboro, N.D., was on the road, running for parts to keep his corn harvest humming along Tuesday, after finishing up his soybeans last week.

He is typical of most farmers in the region as the exceptionally warm weather last week drove harvest home fast in North Dakota and Minnesota in what had been a late year until recent days.

Nearly half the soybean crop in Minnesota came off last week, and a full 36 percent of North Dakota's soybeans were harvested just in the seven days ended Sunday, according to the weekly survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's state ag statistics offices.

And the corn harvest actually is ahead of the average pace in both states, about the first time all year that could be said about any crop's reaping in a year that started so late due to flooding and early rains.

Most crops finally are about wrapped up, except for corn, sunflowers and sugar beets.

Beets, in fact, were the only harvest hurt by the recent warm weather, as American Crystal Sugar Co. continued Tuesday the digging delay begun Oct. 2.

Company officials say if beet root temperatures are above 55 degrees, they will rot quickly if dug and dumped into the giant stockpiles built to last all winter during the sugar processing campaign.

But Crystal announced Tuesday, via its website, that digging and hauling of beets would resume at midnight Tuesday at three of its five plants - East Grand Forks, Crookston and Drayton,N.D. - , and at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the southern ones - Hillsboro, N.D., and Moorhead.

Meanwhile, the last of soybeans were being mopped up and corn harvest was getting under full steam.

The two crops are telling two different stories, Beltz said.

"The soybeans (yielded) about 37, 38 (bushels an acre), about average," he said. "Locally, they were not that bad. But in the western half of the county, it's pretty nasty out there."

Traill County saw much more rain through the season in the parts to the south and west, where many fields there didn't get planted and some that did never had a chance to develop, said Beltz, who is a board member of the North Dakota Soybean Council.

Even though he didn't get his soybeans planted until June 8-9, they turned out not too bad, he said.

His corn, however, "is disappointing," he said of the early harvesting. "It went 105 (bushels an acre) on the first field, down about 70 bushels from last year - which was really good - and about 50 (bushels) off my average. The second field looks a little better, but I don't expect it to be normal."

But in western Traill County, some corn fields never matured enough to produce grain, he said.

More unusual weather last week also posed a problem. When winds got up to 50 mph and higher Friday, farmers who braved it to keep on harvesting corn, even though they found yields plunging, Beltz said. The wind knocked the tops off the stalks, leaving the ears of corn to lie in the field, untouched, he said.

Otherwise, harvest is ahead of normal, finally, across the region. Ten percent of North Dakota's corn crop was combined by Sunday, USDA said, compared to 8 percent by now in the five-year average; 20 percent of Minnesota's corn was harvested by Sunday, well ahead of the five-year average of 13 percent by now.

Some farmers reported the corn in North Dakota dried down fast last week, going from about 25 percent moisture to about 16 percent over a couple of days. Minnesota's corn averaged 18 percent moisture last week, USDA said.

Soybeans were 79 percent harvested in North Dakota, ahead of the five-year average pace of 54 percent by Oct. 9 and up from 43 percent a week earlier.

Nearly half of Minnesota's soybeans were harvested last week - 48 percent - bringing the harvest total to 83 percent complete, ahead of the five-year average pace of 63 percent by Oct. 9.

In both states, 95 percent of the dry edible beans were combined by Sunday, well ahead of the five-year average of 75 percent in North Dakota and 89 percent in Minnesota by Oct. 9.

Potatoes in North Dakota were 82 percent dug by Sunday, just two points behind the five-year average pace.

Only about 18 percent of the sugar beets have been dug in both states - actually 16 percent in Minnesota, compared with about half the crop by now in the five-year average pace, USDA reported.

Of course, the silver lining for sugar beets in such cases is they can continue to add weight and sugar content during such a harvest delay.

The unusually high crop prices from late this summer have fallen substantially, Beltz said, but they saw a big uptick Tuesday.

On Wednesday, an important report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to peg corn and soybean production at about where it estimated it a month ago, according to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Corn and bean futures prices were sharply higher Tuesday, mostly on news that Russia again is going to limit its grain exports because of its concerns about having enough supply.

"In this global market, if somebody sneezes, you feel it all over," Beltz said.

The past month, corn and soybean prices have lost a lot, after a Sept. 30 USDA report said there were larger-than-expected stocks of grain.

In the past month, the hard red spring wheat grown in North Dakota and Minnesota and traded on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, has held nearly a $3 premium, per bushel, to the soft red wheat traded in Chicago.

That gap narrowed some Tuesday, as Chicago wheat was up nearly 50 cents a bushel, while spring wheat saw a more modest increase.

At grain elevators in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, prices spiked sharply Tuesday, according to a daily survey by Agweek magazine.

Soybean prices were up 56 cents to an average of $11.07 at area elevators, and the cash corn price was up 36 cents a bushel, to $5.81.

That's well below the record of $6.40 a bushel North Dakota farmers received for corn in August, according to USDA; but still far above typical.

Spring wheat prices were up 14 cents, to an average of $8.66 a bushel Tuesday at area elevators.

Malting barley prices were up 34 cents a bushel to $6.63 a bushel. Some farmers have reported this week they obtained contracts to grow malting barley next year of well over $7 a bushel at one malting company in eastern North Dakota.

This unusual year, so different from last year's ideal growing and harvesting season, has meant a wide range, from near-disaster for some farmers to surprisingly average crops to others, Beltz said.

"I'll be glad when this year is over and we can do better with next year's."