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The lagging maturity of the corn and soybean crop in the region is creating additional challenges for farmers this harvest season. (Michelle Rook / Agweek)

Late crop results in freeze damage and increased grain drying

The lagging maturity of the corn and soybean crop in the region is creating additional challenges for farmers this harvest season.

The late development means a very wet crop, and with shorter days and below normal temperatures, there has been very little field drying. As a result, farmers are being forced to dry more grain this fall.

South Dakota Soybean Association President Jeff Thompson farms near Colton, S.D., and says his grain drier has been running 24-7. His early maturing corn hybrids are running about 20% moisture and the later maturing corn is even wetter, at 25% or higher. He says it's a cost he didn't need with this year's already short crop.

"My gas man comes every day and it's like 850 gallons a day when the drier's running non-stop," he says. "So it counts up in a hurry. The last expense you need is more drying expense and dockage."

Thompson says the moisture content in his soybeans also was high with the late season. However, he sold his wet soybeans at the elevator, which docked the price to pay for drying the beans down to 13% moisture.

"I took in some 16% moisture beans and on say, a 1,000 bushel load, I lost probably 65-bushels in that dockage," he says. With the cash soybean price at $8.40, that resulted in dockage of $546 on those soybeans or a loss of 55-cents per bushel.

It has been several seasons since farmers had to dry this much grain. That has increased propane prices by 20% in October and created propane delivery issues. To help resolve those challenges, the governors in the region have signed emergency executive orders to exempt drivers of commercial motor vehicles delivering propane from the hours of service requirements during November.

Some of the corn in the region also was damaged by the first freeze in mid-October, as it had not hit black layer yet. Pioneer field agronomist Larry Osborne covers east-central South Dakota into western Minnesota. Osborne says because the kernels didn't completely fill before the growing season ended, that means test weights are lighter on the corn. Plus, the quality has been compromised, so there are more fines and it is a more difficult to handle the crop.

The market is still trying to determine the extent of the damage and yield loss on the crop. Osborne says the freeze took the top-end yield off of both corn and soybeans. He says for soybeans that may be from 5% to 10%, but for corn yield losses may be higher.

"I use the figure 10% to 15%, maybe 20% in some cases," he says. "I don't think quite that much, I think the entire season maybe took off that much over the highs that we've seen in recent years."

But even then, he says that is better than many farmers had anticipated.

"For yields, we're seeing anywhere from 170, 180 on low side with some of the brittle snap and those kinds of things, with upwards of 220 to 230 on the early corn in good fields," he says.

Many farmers in the region were already facing lower production potential with historically high prevented planting acres and the late planted crops. Thompson says he's never taken as much prevented planting on his farm.

"About half the corn and 40% of the beans I took prevented plant on," he says.

He says soybean yields on the acres he did get planted were about average at "a little over 50 bushels per acre."

However, Thompson says soybean yields across South Dakota have been variable, depending on location and how much moisture farmers received during the year, plus the planting date.

Southeast South Dakota had the largest amount of prevented planting acres. Elk Point farmer Doug Hanson says he only got about 30% of his crop planted and those acres went mostly to soybeans. However, the yields on the soybeans he has harvested have been better than expected and are only running about 5 bushels per acre off his average farm yield.

"The yields have been running in the mid-50s, I would say, most of the time. Maybe one or two fields, and we didn't have a lot of fields of course, but one or two fields bumped that 60 area," he says.

Osborne says it will be a long drawn out harvest, especially with the wet crop and uncooperative weather. South Dakota farmers still have more than half the corn in the field. So, some may be harvesting until Thanksgiving or may just wait until next spring.

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