They're known by many names, including the miracle crop and wonder bean, for their numerous uses. Whatever you call them, soybeans are one of the Upper Midwest's three major crops and are grown from southern Iowa and South Dakota north to the Canadian border and even west into Montana.
This fall, soybean harvest is ahead of its five-year average and in full swing across the region when and where the weather allows. That includes North Dakota's Cass County, typically the nation's leading producer of soybeans.
"A lot of soybeans were coming off until the rain" on Sept. 27, said Kyle Aasand, Cass County extension agent.
Soybean harvest is making substantial progress throughout Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota, according to the weekly crop progress released Sept. 28 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report reflected conditions on Sept. 27.
The report didn't include soybean numbers for Montana.
Typically, soybeans are harvested after spring wheat and before corn, the area's two other major crops. Spring wheat harvested is virtually wrapped up — the new crop progress report didn't include harvest information on the crop — and the corn harvest is off to a good start, too.
Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota all enjoyed six to seven days suitable for fieldwork in the week ending Sept. 27, boosting the harvest pace, according to the new report.
But be cautious in interpreting this year's soybean harvest pace relative to the five-year average. This year's ahead-of-schedule pace partly reflects harvest delays in the region last year, which pushed back last year's harvest and skewed the five-year average.
Overall, soybean fields look pretty good in Cass County, even after a bout of mid-September frost. The frost appears to have come late enough that damage from it was fairly minimal, Aasand said.
Harvest of some other crops, including sugar beets, is underway in Cass County, too, Aasand said.
Fall rains can be a mixed blessing for area ag producers. Some want precipitation to recharge subsoil moisture, while others want dry weather to keep harvest in motion. Cass County farmers would prefer the latter this fall, he said.
"If we would go a few weeks without it (rain), we'd really do well with the soybeans and would get started on the corn," Aasand said.
Here's a state-by-state look at the harvest pace for soybeans, corn and sugar beets, as well as the planting pace for winter wheat. All numbers are statewide average and are for Sept. 27.
Iowa — 30% of the crop was harvested, up from the five-year average of 8%.
Minnesota — 31% of the crop was combined, compared with the five-year average of 18%.
North Dakota — 27% of the crop was harvested, compared with the five-year average of 19%.
South Dakota — 29% of the crop was harvested, compared with the five-year average of 13%.
Minnesota — 6% was combined, double the five-year average of 3%; 78% was rated good or excellent, 16% fair and 6% poor or very poor.
North Dakota — 4% was combined, up from the five-year average of 3%; 59% was in good or excellent condition, 29% fair and 12% poor or very poor.
South Dakota — 10% was harvested, double the five-year average of 5%; 72% was in good or excellent shape, 22% fair and 6% poor or very poor.
Iowa — 12% was harvested, up from the five-year harvest of 7%; just 42% was rated good or excellent, 31% fair and 27% poor or very poor.
North Dakota — 16% was harvested, the same as the five-year average.
Minnesota — 18% was harvested, up from the five-year average of 15%.
Montana — 33% was in the ground, down from the five-year average of 43%.
South Dakota — 53% was planted, down from the five-year average of 57%.