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2020 harvest 'a blessing' after strange 2019

Corn harvest is going smoothly for an eastern North Dakota farmer after a bizarre 2019. Harvest continues to make good progress across the entire region.

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Corn harvest is going smoothly for an eastern North Dakota farmer after a bizarre 2019. Harvest continues to make good progress across the entire region. (Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC)

Randy Melvin is on the verge of finishing his second corn harvest this year.

Yes, you read that right. The Buffalo, N.D., farmer was within two days, weather and equipment permitting, of completing his 2020 corn harvest when he talked Oct. 19 with Agweek. In June of this year, he finished harvest of his 2019 corn; exceptionally uncooperative weather kept him from combining it last fall.

"After what happened last year, this year's harvest is really a blessing," Melvin said.

Farmers across much of the Upper Midwest agree with the sentiment. In stark contrast to awful harvest conditions and an unusually slow harvest pace in 2019, the region's 2020 harvest continues to move along smoothly, according to the weekly crop progress report released Oct. 19 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report reflected conditions on Oct. 18.

Credit yet another week of generally cooperative weather. During the week ending Oct. 18, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota averaged between 5.7 to 6.7 days of days suitable for fieldwork.

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Corn typically is the last of the region's three major crops — spring wheat and soybeans are the others — to be harvested. So once corn harvest is wrapped up, harvest overall is nearly finished, too, though many sunflowers, a prominent crop in North Dakota and South Dakota, still remain in fields.

In North Dakota, 55% of corn was harvested on Oct. 18, compared with the five-year average of 19%. Keep in mind that the five-year average is pulled by exceptionally slow harvest progress last year at this time.

Corn harvest is even more advanced elsewhere in the region.

In Iowa, 65% of corn was combined, up from the five-year average of 29%.

Minnesota farmers had harvested 63% of corn, compared with the five-year average of 29%.

In South Dakota, 64% of corn was harvested, compared with the five-year average of 19%.

Melvin, who farms in eastern North Dakota, didn't harvest any of his 2019 corn last fall.

"We made the decision on our farm to hold off harvesting until 2020," a decision that ultimately worked out well, he said. He ended up combining last year's corn from April to June.

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Yields of this year's corn crop have been mixed. Heavy rains this summer meant "too much water, too much moisture on some of the corn," though yields on other fields have been good, Melvin said.

Generally cooperative weather this fall has allowed corn harvest to progress nicely, which is especially appreciated after the struggles of 2019.

"There are a lot of farmers who are thankful for how this harvest has gone," Melvin said.

Here's a closer look at harvest progress for soybeans, sugar beets and sunflowers, as well as the planting pace for winter wheat. All figures are for Oct. 18.

Soybeans

Iowa — 90% was harvested, up from the five-year average of 52%.

Minnesota — 96% was combined, up from the five-year average of 67%.

North Dakota — 92% was harvested, compared with the five-year average of 65%.

South Dakota — 90% was combined, up from the five-year average of 60%.

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Sugar beets

Minnesota — 96% was harvested, up from the five-year average of 71%.

North Dakota — 97% was harvested, compared with the five-year average of 76%.

Sunflowers

North Dakota — 44% was combined, double the five-year average of 22%

South Dakota — 26% of the crop was harvested, up from the five-year average of 22%.

Winter wheat

Montana — 77% of the crop was planted, down from the five-year average of 84%.

South Dakota — 97% of the crop was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 93%.

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