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Published November 04, 2013, 10:07 AM

Tough harvest

Farmers are struggling to harvest their row crops.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The region is in the midst of a wet, difficult struggle to extract its row crops from the fields, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

South Dakota topsoil moisture is rated 94 percent adequate to surplus. Soybean harvest is 49 percent complete, down from a 55 percent five-year average. The state’s soybean harvest is 87 percent complete, actually ahead of the 84 percent average for the date, while corn at 49 percent complete was behind the 55 percent average. Condition is 66 percent good to excellent. Sunflowers were 27 percent harvested, behind a 50 percent average. Some 28 percent were rated poor or very poor.

North Dakota, still affected by wet, muddy fields from early October, was 73 percent complete on soybean harvest, compared with an 80 percent average. Corn was 33 percent, compared with a 48 percent average.

Agweek recently talked with some farmers along the CropStop trail. Here’s what they had to say.

Missed blizzard brunt

ONIDA, S.D. — Allen Weischedel of Onida, S.D., is in the cow-calf beef and rodeo bull business. Since 2005, he’s rented out farmland along U.S. Highway 1804. Today, it’s farmed by his son-in-law Shane Holzwarth.

A former rodeo competitor, Weischedel runs 85 head of bucking stock. He’s part of the Territorial Professional Bull Riders Association, which puts on bull-riding events in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. He also goes to South Dakota Rodeo Association events. He took 10 bulls to the finals in Rapid City the weekend of Oct. 18. He has 3,000 acres of pasture and hay ground for both the bucking stock and the beef. He also runs red Angus cows and puts Charolais bulls on them. “That’s still the main income on the place,” he says.

Weischedel emphasizes he’s fortunate to have missed the brunt of the blizzard that affected ranchers only a few miles to the west on Oct. 4. Absent that disaster, the cow-calf business is outstanding these days.

“Hopefully, we’re looking at selling some of the highest-priced calves I ever sold,” Weischedel says.

He pastured most of what would have been hay this year, putting up 1,200 bales of sudangrass. There’s a lot of feed in the area.

“I don’t know if it’s going to dry up or freeze up,” he says. Corn harvest on the Weischedel land is about three-fourths done. He thinks it was yielding from 100 to 120 bushels per acre generally. Corn planted on failed winter wheat ground was later-planted and poorer-yielding.

All of this year’s winter wheat failed. Holzwarth planted some spring wheat, which produced roughly 45 to 50 bushels per acre.

Farmers had high hopes for the sunflowers, but high winds in early October laid it down and rains through the middle of the month continued to compromise it. Only a little has been done, Weischedel says. Initial yields came in at about 1,800 pounds per acre, even while farmers estimated 300 pounds are probably lying on the ground.

Hits to sunflowers, pheasants

Gettysburg, S.D. — Todd Mangin is from Gettysburg, S.D., but is about midway to Selby. He raises soybeans, spring wheat, winter wheat, corn, sunflowers and cattle. He farms with his wife, Georgia, and two hired men.

Wheat yields were “phenomenal” this year, with spring wheat averaging more than 60 bushels per acre, even as the winter wheat failed out. Soybeans ran 40 bushels, finished on Oct. 27. Corn harvest is about 5 percent done. Mangin thinks it’s averaging 125 to 130 bushels per acre. Progress is halted because of rain and now 2 inches of snow.

Mangin says he knows of no propane shortages, as have been reported elsewhere. He dried his own soybeans from 18 to about 12 percent.

Mike Rausch, location manager at Selby and corporate grain manager for Northern Plains Cooperative, based in Gettysburg, on Oct. 29 thought 85 percent of the region’s soybeans and 25 percent of the corn might have been harvested. He says plenty of propane was contracted, so he thought the co-op was “sitting pretty good” for meeting customer needs. He says Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway trains are 10 days to two weeks behind schedule. “This is about the worst I’ve seen” for train delays, he says.

“Sunflowers are bad,” Mangin says. “The rain and the wind tipped them over and I think we lost 65 to 70 percent. They have sclerotinia disease, and it causes the heads to explode.” Rausch says the difficulty with the sunflowers depended on variety.

Mangin says the hay crop was great — between 5 and 6 tons per acre. He’ll background-feed his calves until February. He doesn’t start calving until May 1, so he missed the spring storm.

Pheasants are an extra source of income for some farmers in the region, Mangin says. When there aren’t birds, they have to buy birds to turn loose, he says.

Pheasant numbers were down 50 percent from 2011 to 2012, and another 60 percent in 2013.

“At my home place, along the river, there are no pheasants, and we always have pheasants. I don’t have any on my silage pile, nothing on my ground hay — nothing,” he says. “Where we cut hay, we never stirred up one pheasant this year.”

First corn for grain

FORT RICE, N.D. — Joe Lockner of Mandan, N.D., and his father, John, farm near Fort Rice, N.D., along the west shores of the Missouri River.

The Lockners have about 200 acres under irrigation where they grow corn, wheat and alfalfa. This spring and fall were wet, The wheat went 35 to 40 bushels an acre.

The alfalfa harvest went well, but it rained when they were cutting. “It was a good year for alfalfa with all of the rain,” Joe says. They have about 130 beef cows that are fed background-feed silage and ground corn until they sell in February.

They’ve irrigated corn for about 30 years and had nearly 50 acres cut for silage by Oct. 17. “We had planted it so late, that it’d been December till we were able to combine,” Joe says of the silage corn. They picked another 25 acres for ear corn to grind for the cows. They expected to combine another 25 acres by Nov. 1. If so, it would be the first time they’d ever harvested corn for grain. Joe figured it might run 100 bushels an acre.

John says there had been 5.75 inches of precipitation between Oct. 4 and Oct. 17. “It didn’t snow here, but it rained about 2.5 inches when they had the snow down there in South Dakota,” John says. Beef prices are positive in October, and he hopes that will hold into February.

A tough, wet fall

ELDRIDGE, N.D. — Larry Wahl tries to keep a sense of humor, regardless of a wet harvest. Wahl says he farms with a son, Cade, and gets help from a brother, Steve, and “everybody else that’s standing around,” he jokes.

Wahl’s pinto beans came in well this year. He was one of the early ones in his area getting in after the corn on Oct. 18, after a killing frost finally came on Oct. 14. The field was coming in at more than 25 percent moisture and would dry down for a field average of 100 bushels per acre. Drying it to market level of 15 percent moisture would be expensive, but he says there’s no point in waiting.

“I’ve seen it three days before Thanksgiving and it’s 25 percent moisture, so you might as well go after it,” he says.

It’s been a wild year.

“This field right here, we got it all planted and then we got 7.5 inches of rain in one night,” he says. “It all got drowned out one night. And then it decided, ‘Maybe I’m drowned out, but maybe I should grow.’ ... This is why we’ve got the moisture problems we’ve got.”

The Wahls farm sloughs and salt land, so it’s not easy. “The government won’t let us do anything to improve it (drain it),” he says. He says farmers he’s talked to have speculated whether they should be in the farm program at all, but the risks of opting out are too high.

Politics are impossible to speculate on, but harvest is one area where he must make the call.

“Might as well do it,” Wahl says. “How would I put it: I had three floods, one hailstorm and a drought. And now we’re sitting with excess moisture. There’s no better way to describe what you’re dealing with this year. They’re predicting snow and rain next week. Just GO, that’s all I know.”

This summer, he hooked up his Montana Dakota Utilities service with a natural gas line, which he says is one of the smarter things he’s done. He says he’s been too busy harvesting to know much about propane shortages.

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