EDGELEY, North Dakota — At age 65, Loren A. Schulz has seen a lot, but 2021 has offered a new, highly variable version of drought.

Loren A. Schulz farms with his wife, Sheila, and his son, Chad, with help from his father, also Loren, who is 90. The diversified farm produces wheat, soybeans and corn. Much of their land is well-drained, so even when it was wet they’ve had decent yields.

Two combines, a grain cart, and a semi-trailer coordinate to go after the soybeans at the Loren A. Schulz farm near Edgeley, North Dakota, on Sept. 18, 2021. The family was through about one-fourth of their drought-struck beans, with yields better than expected but “way under” averages. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2021, near Edgeley, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Two combines, a grain cart, and a semi-trailer coordinate to go after the soybeans at the Loren A. Schulz farm near Edgeley, North Dakota, on Sept. 18, 2021. The family was through about one-fourth of their drought-struck beans, with yields better than expected but “way under” averages. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2021, near Edgeley, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The family was into the bean harvest on Sept. 18, 2021 — “a little more than I expected, but way below average,” Loren said.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service in North Dakota in its weekly crop progress and condition report on Sept. 27, 2021, said North Dakota soybeans were 26% harvested, compared to a five-year average of 16% for the date. The condition of the crop was rated 15% very poor, 28% poor, 41% fair, 16% good and 0% excellent. (See below for state details.)

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This year, Schulz’ soybean crop was drought-stressed, with only tenths of an inch of rain earlier in the year. A “little shot” of rain in late July. Improved genetics have helped keep the crop from being a disaster.

Soybean fields at Edgeley, North Dakota, benefitted from late rains, but were difficult to judge for yields because of “blank” areas and “green spots” that are left to be harvested later. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2021, near Edgeley, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Soybean fields at Edgeley, North Dakota, benefitted from late rains, but were difficult to judge for yields because of “blank” areas and “green spots” that are left to be harvested later. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2021, near Edgeley, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The Schulzes chopped corn to feed to their 50 cows. They usually don’t do that but they were short of hay.

“We were short of hay. We were able to get at some CRP, and were able to put that up, but we’re still short because our alfalfa crop is nothing,” he said.

They had 30 acres and got 10 bales, no second cutting.

For two months the Schulzes have had to feed hay and haul water to pastures where the stock ponds dried up. The pastures have revived some, but they were still hauling water.

The ‘green spots’

Loren A. Schulz, 65, said the 2021 drought has been bad but he thinks it’s not as bad as the 1988 version he lived through. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2021, near Edgeley, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Loren A. Schulz, 65, said the 2021 drought has been bad but he thinks it’s not as bad as the 1988 version he lived through. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2021, near Edgeley, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
After a week of harvest, the Schulzes had taken about 400 acres of the 1,600 acres of beans. They had just about finished as of Sept. 27, 2021. They started on early-maturing varieties.

Loren really couldn’t say what field averages were, because portions of some fields remained unharvested.

“We have never finished a field yet, because of the green spots we’ve been running through,” Loren said.

Stressed areas were staying green longer . The lower ground ripened, with green leaves, and moisture was running 11.5% to 14%.

“We just stay out of it,” Schulz said, of the green stuff. “We’ll leave those spots, come back later for it.”

He thinks some of the best fields might hit 30 to 32 bushels per acre, compared to proven yield averages in the mid-40 bushel range.

“Some of the (soybean) yields have been decent,” but parts of the field were just “blank,” he explained.

One field was bringing about 20 bushels per acre.

A grain cart loads a semi-trailer with soybeans at a field northwest of Edgeley, North Dakota, as the Loren A. Schulz family got after a drought-reduced crop. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2021, near Edgeley, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
A grain cart loads a semi-trailer with soybeans at a field northwest of Edgeley, North Dakota, as the Loren A. Schulz family got after a drought-reduced crop. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2021, near Edgeley, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

After a mostly dry summer, they later got a 2.5 inch rain.

“Too late,” he said.

As bad as it is, it was worse in 1988, Loren said.

“My son has never seen anything like this," he said. "Even with what we’ve got, we’ve got a better safety net — protection with crop insurance that we have nowadays.”

Yield monitors give an indication of how spots in a soybean field produced, but the true yield will come from adding in the late-harvested green spots, said Loren A. Schulz, early in the bean harvest near Edgeley, North Dakota, on Sept. 18, 2021. 
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Yield monitors give an indication of how spots in a soybean field produced, but the true yield will come from adding in the late-harvested green spots, said Loren A. Schulz, early in the bean harvest near Edgeley, North Dakota, on Sept. 18, 2021. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

State-by-state

State-by-state crop progress and condition reports from a weekly survey, released Sept. 27, 2021, show that harvest is coming in faster than the five-year average.

North Dakota — Topsoil moisture is still very short to short on 71% of the state, with only 28% adequate, and 1% surplus. Subsoil is even drier, with 41% very short, 35% short, 23% adequate, and 1% surplus.

Pasture and range are 76% poor to very poor. Stock water supplies are short to very short on 84% of the state.

Soybean were 91% dropping leaves, compared to 87% for the five-year average.

Corn conditions are 16% very poor, 26% poor, 41% fair, 17% good and 0% excellent. Corn was 65% mature, ahead of the 47% average. About 9% was harvested, ahead of the 3% average for this date.

Canola was 92% harvested, ahead of the 88% average. Sugar beets are 13% harvested, equal to average. Sunflower is rated 38% poor and very poor, 37% fair, and 20% good to excellent. Potatoes were 48% harvested, ahead of the 43% average.

Dry edible beans were 73% harvested, compared to 63% average.

Minnesota — Topsoil moistures were 9% sort; 24% short, 65% adequate and 2% surplus. Subsoil moisture rating is 17% very short, 37% short, 45% adequate and 1% surplus.

Soybeans were 30% harvested, seven days ahead of average. Soybean condition was 35% good to excellent.

Corn was 75% mature, eight days ahead of the five-year average for this date. About 10% was harvested 10 days ahead of average. Corn condition is rated 38% good to excellent.

Dry beans were 72% harvested, compared to 69% average. Potatoes were 59% harvested, compared to 61% average. Sunflowers were 3% harvested, compared to 5% average.

South Dakota — Topsoil moisture is rated 67% very short to short. Subsoil is 76% short to very short. Pasture and range are considered 82% very poor to poor, 15% fair, and 3% good to excellent.

Corn is rated 42% very poor to poor; 35% fair, and 23% good to excellent. About 10% was harvested, compared to 5% for the five-year average.

Soybeans were rated 36% poor or very poor, 40% fair, and 24% good to excellent. About 17% were harvested, just ahead of the 13% average for this date.

Sorghum condition is 48% very poor and poor. About 18% of the sorghum was harvested, compared to 7% average. Sunflowers are 2% harvested, near the 1% average for the date.

Farmers had planted 58% of their winter wheat, slightly ahead of the average 50% pace.