A year ago at this time, North Dakota and South Dakota sunflower producers, who dominate U.S. production of the crop, were battling snow and soggy fields to harvest their crop. This year, with nearly half of November remaining, they're close to finishing.
"It's such a big and welcome change," John Sandbakken, executive director of the Mandan, N.D.-based National Sunflower Association, said of this year's harvest pace.
Harvest across the Upper Midwest continues to go well, according to the weekly crop progress report released Nov. 16 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report reflected conditions on Nov. 15.
Weather during the week wasn't particularly cooperative for harvest — days suitable for fieldwork during the week ending Nov. 15 ranged from 3.7 in Minnesota to 5.4 in North Dakota — but the harvest already was so advanced that the uncooperative conditions weren't a major concern overall.
Though early November snow continues to slow harvest in parts of South Dakota, the soybean and corns harvests are close to wrapping up. Sunflowers, normally the last crop to be harvested, are well ahead of the weather-delayed 2019 harvest pace.
According to NASS, North Dakota farmers had harvested 93% of their sunflowers. Sandbakken said the actual number probably is closer to 96%or 97%, which would be roughly triple the harvest pace a year ago.
South Dakota's sunflower crop was 81% harvested, compared with 48% a year ago at this time.
Nationally, 88% of the sunflower crop was harvested, up from just 48% a year ago.
In addition to the timely harvest, sunflower producers are enjoying good yields overall. They're generally harvesting roughly 1,600 pounds to 3,000 pounds per acre — the former in areas hurt by dry conditions this year — with yields of a ton or slightly more per acre fairly common, Sandbakken said.
A ton per acre — once considered outstanding — is now seen as a pretty good crop, reflecting improved seed varieties and better farming practices.
And because there was relatively little pressure from disease and insects, "the quality has been really good" this crop season, Sandbakken said.
Fairly attractive sunflower prices, reflecting rising soybean prices, further increased the appeal of sunflowers this year.
"The producers I've talked have been very happy," given the combination of yields and prices, he said.
And it appears that North Dakota will regain a bragging point in the good-natured sparring with South Dakota: North Dakota apparently will take back its place as the nation's leading sunflower producer from South Dakota, which had held the top spot for the past two years.
Increased sunflower acreage in North Dakota this year almost certainly will allow the state to regain the top spot, especially given harvested yields so far, Sandbakken said.
Here's a closer look at the most recent crop progress report. All numbers are for Nov. 15.
Iowa — 97% was harvested, compared to the five-year average of 88%.
Minnesota — 97% was combined, up from the five-year average of 88%.
North Dakota — 97% was combined, up from the five-year average of 70%. Widespread snow in the fall of 2019 slowed harvest last year and pulled down the five-year average.
South Dakota — 95% was harvested, up from the five-year average of 80%.
Minnesota — 100% was combined, up from the five-year average of 97%.
North Dakota — 100% was harvested, up from the five-year average of 94%.
South Dakota — 100% was combined, up from the five-year average of 97%.
Iowa — 99% was harvested, up from the five-year average of 97%.
Planting was finished in South Dakota, with just 1% of the crop still to be planted in Montana.