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Great weather creates tough choice for area corn farmers

Continued warm, dry weather, and the forecast of more to come, is giving Upper Midwest corn producers a difficult but not unpleasant decision: Harvest wet corn now and pay drying expenses? Or hold off combining for a few days and allow corn to dr...

Continued warm, dry weather, and the forecast of more to come, is giving Upper Midwest corn producers a difficult but not unpleasant decision: Harvest wet corn now and pay drying expenses? Or hold off combining for a few days and allow corn to dry naturally in the field?

The latter can save farmers a few pennies per bushel, an important consideration when plunging corn prices make the crop less profitable. But holding off combining also runs the risk of major field loss, which easily could exceed savings in drying costs.

There's no easy or simple answer, says Ken Hellevang, grain drying specialist at North Dakota State University. He's been contacted by a number of farmers who are deciding whether to combine corn or hold off.

His best advice is that producers should weigh weather forecasts and the amount of corn they still need to harvest. If the forecast is promising and a relatively small amount of corn remains to be harvested, producers might do well to hold off, he says.

South Dakota corn farmers are doing both: holding off on some fields and combining others, allowing them to save drying costs while also reducing their overall risk of field loss, says Bob Fanning, plant pathology/field specialist with the South Dakota State University Extension Service in Winner.

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Corn has been popular in most of Minnesota, eastern South Dakota and southeast North Dakota for decades. In recent years, new faster-maturing varieties have allowed the crop to expand north and west into northwest Minnesota and the western Dakotas.

Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota corn farmers all had harvested far less of their crop than usual on Oct. 19, the last day for which harvest statistics are available from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The slow harvest pace reflects planting delays this spring, which resulted in the corn crop getting a later-than-usual start, and the unusually cool summer, which caused corn to mature slower than usual.

In Minnesota, only 16 percent of corn was harvested on Oct. 19, compared with the five-year average of 47 percent for that date.

In South Dakota, just 19 percent of corn was harvested on Oct. 19, compared with 45 percent for that date.

North Dakota farmers had harvested only 7 percent of their corn on Oct. 19, compared with the five-year average of 37 percent for that date.

The 2014 harvest rates will be much higher when the next NASS report is issued in the week of Oct. 27, but they're expected to still be considerably below their five-year averages.

Read an expanded version of this article in the Oct. 27 print issue of Agweek.

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