Farmers thrilled with positive soybean yields

ANETA, N.D. -- Scott Huso grows many crops, and most of them yielded well this growing season. But soybeans were the star, especially when price is considered.

Scott Huso, a farmer from Aneta, N.D., pours a canister of soybeans into a moisture meter on Tuesday, October 18, 2016. (Nick Nelson/Agweek)

ANETA, N.D. - Scott Huso grows many crops, and most of them yielded well this growing season. But soybeans were the star, especially when price is considered.

"Soybeans, for us, is the one," says the Aneta, N.D., farmer. "It's our biggest crop (in planted acres). It's the one that will tip the pendulum (toward profitability)." His soybeans yielded about 45 bushels per acre, compared with 40 bushels per acre in 2015, also a good year.

Huso's not alone. Better-than-average yields, combined with relatively good soybean prices, will allow many Upper Midwest soybean producers to make money, or at least break even, on the crop this year. Going into the crop year, soybeans were expected to finish slightly in the red with average yields.

"It's going to end being an OK year" for soybean producers overall, says Andy Swenson, North Dakota State University Extension Service farm management specialist.

A few area soybean fields haven't been harvested yet and final yield-per-acre numbers aren't available yet. But most soybean farmers report excellent yields, often 10 percent to as much as much 100 percent more than their five-year average yield. A 100 percent increase means farmers harvested two average crops this growing season.


Overall yields "were just outstanding - the best that some (farmers) have ever had," says David Iverson, an Astoria, S.D., soybean farmer.

He's familiar with soybean fields, for which a yield of 40 to 50 bushels per acre is average, that enjoyed yields of more than 60 bushels per acre.

The outlook isn't as bright for corn and wheat, the region's two other major crops. Their prices are even poorer than those of soybeans, so they were projected to lose even money per acre than soybeans with average yields.

For example, farmers in the southeast were projected by the NDSU Extension Service to lose $41 per acre with wheat, $38 per acre with corn and $28 per acre with soybeans.

As is the case with soybeans, the region's wheat and corn generally enjoyed above-average yields this crop season. The wheat harvest is finished, though much of the region's corn is still in the field. Even with its good yields, wheat probably will remain a money-loser for most farmers, producers say.

For some farmers, big corn yields will offset poor corn prices and allow them to break even, or even finish slightly in the black, Swenson says.

Potential drying costs, the uncertainty of how many corn bushels are still in fields and the price at which farmers end up selling their additional corn all complicate the question of whether farmers will turn a profit on corn

Farmers in some parts of the Upper Midwest likely will make money on a few other crops, too, including lentils and sugar beets. But because soybeans are so prominent and widely grown, they're the crop that will do the most to ease the sting of poor crop prices, ag officials say.


Keep in mind that many soybean farmers still haven't sold part of their 2016 crop yet. The price they receive for unsold beans will help determine whether they turn a profit, or break even, on the crop.

Painful exceptions

Credit the weather for good soybean yields.

The crop got off to a good start after planting, enjoyed mostly favorable growing conditions in June and July and, perhaps most importantly, benefitted from plentiful August rains. Soybeans need adequate precipitation during the month to develop properly, and this August they received it.

"We had nice, timely rains in August," Huso says.

But generalizing about crop yields across the sprawling Upper Midwest is risky. Yields vary, often substantially, from farm to farm and even field to field. That's true in Nelson County, where Huso farms. He points to farmers north of him whose crops were damaged by heavy and repeated summer rains.

"We feel very fortunate to have had good yields when not so far away they didn't," he says.

The problem is worst in much of northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, where some fields received double their average precipitation this growing season.


"It's been a real challenge," says Theresia Gillie, a Hallock, Minn., farmer and president of the state Soybean Growers Association. Hallock is in northeast Minnesota, and wet conditions there have hampered her own soybean harvest.

Given the excessive moisture, some soybean farmers will, at best, break even this crop season, she says.

Many expenses, including farmland rental rates, haven't fallen, despite sharply lower crop prices, Gillie says.

"The rental rates will need to come down," something many landowners have yet to recognize, she says.

Small seed, big impact

Soybeans' importance was seen in recent U.S. government statistics, which found the nation's gross domestic product rose 2.9 percent in the year's third quarter. GDP is the total value of the goods and services produced in a country in a year.

Higher U.S. soybean exports - helped by poor crops in Argentina and Brazil, America's top competitors for bean exports - accounted for nearly a third (0.9 percentage point) of that increase.

The rise in exports boosted U.S. soybean prices this summer. Many farmers took advantage, selling a portion of their crop before of their crop, Iverson says.


What happens next to soybean prices is unclear. U.S. farmers are expected to harvest a record 4.27 billion bushels of the crop, thanks in large part to big yields in the Upper Midwest; that will work against prices. But potential production problems in South America and continued strong Chinese demand will help prices.

Storing unsold soybeans - to capture potentially higher prices in the future - should be considered carefully by farmers with additional bushels from above-average yields, says Frayne Olson, NDSU Extension crop economist and marketing specialist.

Huso says that, because he took advantage of pricing opportunities in early summer, he doesn't have a lot of unsold beans now. Still, "I'm hanging on to as many as I can."

One of many crops

Huso, who grew up in the Aneta area, has a diverse agricultural background. He earned a master's degree in ag economics at North Dakota State University. His thesis was on genetically modified wheat, and he wanted to work for Monsanto, a leader in genetically modified seed.

After finishing school, he had several job offers, but wasn't ready to leave North Dakota. He went to work in Fargo, N.D., for AdFarm, a marketing and communications firm that focuses on agriculture. He later worked for AdFarm's office in Calgary, Alberta.

In 2008, he returned to Aneta to begin farming with Tim Brakke, a veteran who recruited Huso. "I'd had my eye on Scott since he was in the seventh grade," Brakke says, recognizing even then that Huso, now 36, had the potential to become an excellent farmer.

Today, Huso raises winter wheat, spring wheat, barley, canola, dry beans (mainly pintos), soybeans and corn.


The winter wheat and canola suffered from a freeze this spring, but yielded fairly well. The barley yielded well, and is expected to make malting grade. The pintos suffered from too much rain and ended up with "pretty disappointing yields."

Huso's not finished yet with the corn, but says it's running well, too, with yields as much as 30 percent above average. Though it's too early to be sure, his corn might finish in the black, as well.

But soybeans promise to be his best, most profitable crop. His poorest fields - the ones "that in a drought year, you'd have nothing there" - produced particularly good soybean crops. The drainage in these fields is a shortcoming most years, but a strength in wet 2016, says Huso.

That's not uncommon across the Upper Midwest this year. Many other soybean farmers also report excellent yields on light or sandy soil that usually runs short of moisture.

Huso, like other Midwest farmers who enjoyed above-average soybean yields, say they appreciate nature's cooperation at a time of poor crop prices.

"It's hard to imagine where we'd be (financially) with average yields," Huso says. "So we're very happy to have had the soybean yields we did."

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