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After a record year of soybean production in South Dakota in 2016, many farmers are finding yields below last fall, but still well above expectations during the season. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)

South Dakota farmers harvest surprising soybean yields

After a challenging growing season, South Dakota farmers are finding some surprisingly good soybean yields as they harvest this fall.

Doug Hanson, a farmer from Elk Point, S.D., started the season planting the soybean crop late and into mud, and then the weather changed. "From June 20 onto the rest of the summer it just quit raining," he says.

The soybean crop finally got some rain in August and recovered, only to face another challenge with late season hail.

"It nailed some of our fields about 10, 12 percent damage so there's some stuff on the ground," Hanson says.

So, for him to harvest his soybeans and find such good yields was a surprise.

"The yields are running I would say, high 50s low 60s. The way things looked this summer, 60 bushel beans are okay," he says. And that's not that far away from last year's record soybean yields on his farm.

Goodwin, S.D., farmer Todd Hanten's soybean crop was also better than expected.

"We're averaging about 55 probably right now," he says. "We've had as high as in the mid-60s, but we've also had some in the mid-40s too."

Hanten's farm was hit by hail various times early in the season and he had to replant, so the above average yields are all the more surprising.

"In my 30 years of farming, I've never been hailed out and had to replant before, but we did have to this year. The replants look good though," he says.

After a record year of soybean production in the state in 2016, many farmers are finding yields below last fall but still well above expectations during the season.

"They've been running in that 60 to 65, our best were 72 on a couple farms," says Kevin Scott, a farmer from Valley Springs, S.D. "I think if we average 65 it will be very fortunate."

Fortunate because that will put him above breakeven, which is not unlike most farmers in the state. But for a drought year it's remarkable.

"This farm looks pretty good, and I'm pretty sure we'll be sustainable here," says Scott. "I typically think 60 bushel soybeans is about breakeven, with a $9 a bushel price."

Hanten agrees and says with the extra bushels of soybeans and marketing some of his crop earlier in the year at higher prices, that will be positive for his bottom line.

"With these yields and these prices, it's going to help that we should be able to break even or generate a little profit," says Hanten.

Farther north and west from Hanten's farm in Goodwin, farmers were hit by the drought early in the season and many in those areas didn't know if they would get a crop at all. Craig Schaunaman, who farms near Aberdeen, S.D., says the land they farm west of Highway 281 was in the drought area, and by the second week of July, the soybeans had gone dormant. "When you looked at where we were at in May, we had .38 of rain from the first of May to the 12th of June here," says Schaunaman. "Late June, early July it didn't even look like we were going to get a crop. So, things turned around."

The turnaround was the result of a change in the weather pattern.

"We picked up some rains," Schaunaman says. "The 18th of July we picked up a couple inches of rain, which I think helped the corn and the beans, and it cooled off some. Early on we had some above-average temperatures, so we were able to get some rains in July and August there that carried the crops through."

In fact, they ended up receiving several inches of rain, which came just in time for the soybeans. Schaunaman says soybean yields ran just below their Average Production History on the portions of their farm that were in drought, so they feel fortunate.

"West of Highway 281 our beans are typically 45, so we're right at a 40-bushel average," he says.

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