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Once South Dakota farmers got the combines in the field, they were very thankful for their yields, which by most accounts were above expectations. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)

South Dakota farmers give thanks at harvest

The harvest season is wrapping up in South Dakota, and it's a time of pride for farmers as they bring in the crop they've been working for all season long. 2017 was a challenging growing season with great variability, followed by a harvest that was drawn out by cool, wet fall weather. However, once farmers got the combines in the field, they were very thankful for their yields, which by most accounts were above expectations.

Farmers started planning this crop shortly after last year's harvest, from seed varieties to weed control. Harvest is when they gauge if their plan was successful.

"All the work that you put into it all year long — this is finally when you get to see what you've been working for and everything you've done, how you did," says Todd Hanten, a Goodwin, S.D., farmer. "In soybeans especially, you never know what you're going to get by looking at those soybeans until you get the combines into the field."

Hanten says when he's combining this year's crop, he's making mental notes and evaluating his plans to make adjustments for next season. "It's great to get out there and combine and see the different varieties, see the different practices you've done in different fields," he says.

For the first time in 30 plus years, Hanten got hail on his farm and had to replant several fields. However, he says he was even excited to combine those soybeans and see how they performed.

The outcome of that harvest determines if a farmer will be profitable for the year.

"It's your paycheck, so it's always exciting if you're a grain farmer to harvest that crop, see it come in," says Aberdeen, S.D., farmer Craig Schaunaman. "It's how you plan for the year to reap those rewards that you've worked so hard for as a grain farmer."

Harvest is also a time when farmers get a report card on if they were profitable based on the ecological and sustainable practices they used. The goal for Kevin Scott, a Valley Springs, S.D., is "how can we produce more crop for less inputs and still make a living at it? Those are the things we're looking for now," he says.

With soybean yields on their farm running in the mid 60s to lower 70s, Scott thinks they will be profitable on soybeans.

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

However, he says it's a delicate balance.

"If saving money is the only thing you're doing, and you're losing your factory or you're degrading your ground, then you're not really making it sustainable," says Scott.

At harvest, Scott says they're also evaluating cropping practices like weed and pest control and conservations efforts.

"You're trying to determine whether or not there is too much cover on the ground," he says. "Do we need to till, do we not till, do we fertilize for the soybeans in the coming year?"

It's all with the goal of making improvements for next season.

The harvest season is also a time of thanks for farmers and their families.

"There's a lot of pride in the quality of product we have and the value and the amounts," Scott says.

Hanson agrees there is a great deal to be thankful for at harvest.

"Watching it grow and mature over the summer, it's a great job. I love this season. I love farming and that's I guess why I've done it for so long," he says.

And that's an appreciation shared by most farmers, even when the harvest gets strung out like it did this fall in South Dakota.

"I love harvest. There's no better time," Hanton says.