The combines are rolling throughout the region and the general theme is that yields are highly variable. The surprise is that soybean yields have been better than farmers expected, especially in South Dakota which has had nearly the entire state in some level of drought through the 2021 growing season. Yields in the state are ranging from 20 to 70 plus bushels per acre.

Arlington, South Dakota, farmer Craig Converse said he’s excited about the early results on his farm, and soybean yields are actually running higher than a year ago in many fields.

“Yields are surprisingly pretty good, as we got some timely and beneficial rains during the summer,” he said.

With moisture levels below normal normal, he was expecting a hit.

"They’re a little better than average and certainly better than I was anticipating going into it because we were five to six inches below normal," he said. "This last field I did was 10 bushels better than last year.”

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South Dakota's soybean harvest is ahead of a normal pace in 2021, and farmers are finding variable, though better than expected, yield results.
Michelle Rook / Agweek
South Dakota's soybean harvest is ahead of a normal pace in 2021, and farmers are finding variable, though better than expected, yield results. Michelle Rook / Agweek
He said last year in August the precipitation just shut off so that is one big difference. Plus, the drier conditions kept disease pressure light as well.

Chad Schooley farms near Castlewood, in northeast South Dakota. He said his yields are all over the board but are still pretty amazing for the lack of rain. He ran a moisture deficit on the ground he farms from five to ten inches.

“We did one field that was in the low 20s, and we’ve had a couple fields on either side of 50, some bumping up to 60. It depends on the ground and the rainfall,” he said.

The beans are drying down fast but Schooley said moisture levels are from 10.5% to 13%.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Crop Progress Report showed soybean harvest at 17% done in South Dakota as of the week ending Sunday, September 26, with corn at 10%. Both are ahead of average.

Harvest is also progressing quickly in Iowa with the help of cooperative weather, and farmers have combined 18% of the soybean crop, which is 7% ahead of the five-year average. Corn harvest is also ahead of normal at t 9% versus the average of 6%. Just like South Dakota, early yield reports in Iowa are inconsistent.

Brent Renner farms in north central Iowa around Klemme and said he has seen huge variability in plant stage and soil moisture levels in the fields he has combined. That wasn’t a surprise for Klemme because of the weather during the 2021 growing season.

“We had a crazy year this year," he said. "We had some areas that were affected by frost and replant.”

He said there are also large yield swings in the beans he’s combined, both within fields and between fields.

“Of the two fields that I’ve done so far, the first field I combined was in the high 40s and the other was in the mid-60s," he said. "So quite variable.”

However, he said the limited moisture he had this season means some of higher end yields are a welcome surprise. His soils have a high pH, so it is difficult for him to achieve 70 bushels beans.

Jeff Frank also farms in north central Iowa near Auburn. He said he ran a soil moisture deficit of 10 inches this season on his farm but caught a few timely rains in August that benefitted the soybean crop, pushing higher soybean yields than he estimated.

“Most of mine have been running right around 70. My (Actual Production History) is 68 so I’m just a little above my APH, which shocked me," Frank said. "The beans are weed free, and we pretty much threw everything at them; we put fungicide on, we put insecticide on.”

Frank and Renner said both soybeans and corn have been drying down fast with the dry weather and much above normal temperatures. Some corn has standability issues due to the drought stress, which will make harvest scheduling a challenge.