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Harvest throws a few 'curve balls'

Farmers understand the need for flexibility during harvest. Unpredictable weather, among other things, can disrupt even the best-laid plans. But Matt Nelson has needed to be exceptionally flexible this harvest.

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Wheat harvest (Erin Brown / Grand Vale Creative)

Farmers understand the need for flexibility during harvest. Unpredictable weather, among other things, can disrupt even the best-laid plans. But Matt Nelson has needed to be exceptionally flexible this harvest.

"We've had a few curve balls thrown at us. For a while we were holding on for dear life. But we're doing the best we can and catching up," Nelson says.

Nelson farms near Lakota, N.D., a town of about 650 in north-central North Dakota. Agweek is following Nelson through the 2018 crop season. Look for more stories about his farming operation later in harvest.

Nelson's 2018 harvest was complicated after one of his farm employees left for a job in the oilfields and another was hurt seriously in a motorcycle industry.

"We're definitely not as smooth-running (this harvest) as we normally are," Nelson says.

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A new employee, a young man recruited from Nebraska, has joined the farm and "has helped us get back on track," Nelson says.

The injured employee is "doing a little better now. Our primary concern is making sure he's recovering. He's back now from the hospital, but it will be a long recovery," Nelson says.

Most of the Nelson's wheat was harvested when he talked with Agweek. Quality is good, and yields are slightly below average after two years of good yields.

Too much heat and too little moisture hurt yields of what had a very promising wheat crop. The crop was planted a week to 1½ later than usual and harvested about a week earlier than usual - reflecting warm weather that pushed the crop, or caused it to mature faster than usual, Nelson says.

North Dakota's overall wheat harvest also is more advanced than normal. As of Aug. 19, 59 percent of North Dakota wheat was harvested, compared with the five-year average of 37 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Nelson also grows canola, black beans and corn, with canola up next on the harvest line-up. When he was talked with Agweek, he was close to desiccating his canola with Roundup. He expects that canola yields will be average to below-average, again reflecting too much heat and too little moisture this growing season.

His black beans were hurt by inadequate moisture this August. "It looked to me like they could have used a drink of water a week or so ago," he says.

Corn also seems to have been hurt, especially on lighter ground, he says.

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Upper Midwest farmers generally say that, given current poor crop prices, they'll need better-than-average yields to be profitable this year. Nelson, asked about the profit outlook on his farm after slumping yield potential, says, "We were able to get a good chunk of (2018 crops) on forward contracts at pretty decent prices. So we'll be OK, I think. But it'll definitely tighten things up (financially)."

Related Topics: FARMING
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