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SD wheat being harvested even as crops still being planted

PIERRE, S.D.—Even as farmers in central South Dakota are replanting fields wrecked by hail storms 10 days ago, harvest has started, too, as the first bushels of winter wheat have come off.

Last week, Tom Young of Onida was out planting sunflowers on ground where just a couple months earlier he had planted field peas.

The storm consisting of high winds, heavy rains and lots of hail cut the field peas down. It was part of a 50-miles-long path about two miles wide in the Pierre area. Others, too, were replanting hail-blasted fields in a late-season gamble.

Young was banking on a "short-season" variety of sunseeds designed to be ready for harvest quicker than more regularly used varieties. He's still got to hope against an early winter and accept that short-season crops tend to yield less per acre, by their nature.

Meanwhile, farmers across the region began combining winter wheat planted last fall.

According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sioux Falls, by Sunday 2 percent of the winter wheat crop had been reaped. That's behind the five-year average pace of 7 percent by now, and last year's 13 percent.

The winter wheat was rated in good condition over 45 percent of the acres and excellent on 2 percent; fair on 40 percent, poor on 9 percent and very poor on 4 percent.

Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission based in Pierre, said earlier this week he had gotten reports that wheat harvest had just got a good start.

In an email, he said, "Early reports are generally higher protein than expected, good test weight and acceptable moisture levels. Yields have been reported from 30 (bushels per acre) on fields that either had disease or rain was too late, to 70 to 90 plus (bushels per acre) on the top end."

Protein levels are averaging 13 percent to 13.5 percent, according to Christopherson; that's pretty good for winter wheat.

High protein content usually means higher prices for farmers, per bushel; but it also usually means fewer bushels, because protein levels tend to be higher in drought-stressed wheat that doesn't yield as much per acre as a field that received plenty of rain.

This week, father and son, Chet and Josh Beckley, brought their team of combines and grain carts and trucks up into South Dakota, custom combining winter wheat.

On Monday they began combining on the farm of Harlan and Travis Smith northwest of Harrold, South Dakota, Josh Beckley said.

Each John Deere harvest machine can take off from 100 to 300 acres per day, depending on the terrain and size of field, Beckley said.

The Beckleys finished their work in Texas about June 19 and in Kansas on July 4.

The wheat near Harrold was running about 60 bushels per acre, Beckley said. USDA has estimated South Dakota winter wheat farmers will average 54 bushels per acre this summer.

The latest projections show South Dakota farmers will harvest 730,000 acres of winter wheat this summer. The reality will probably be less, because those estimates were made as of June 12, well before destructive hail storms cut down thousands of acres of crops, including wheat fields. Some estimate a third of the crop acres in Sully County were ruined by the hail storms that hit the last days of June.

Winter wheat production in the state was projected last month to come in at 39.4 million bushels, which is low by historical standards, but nearly twice the 2017 harvest of a paltry 20 million bushels after a year of drought.

In 2016, the state's farmers produced 64 million bushels of winter wheat.