Quality looks good but yield is down in Kidder County barley

Binder’s malt barley seemed to be of fairly good quality, but the bushels weren’t adding up the way he would have liked — not surprising in a year that’s been a struggle from the beginning.

Michael Binder and his crew were operating two combines and a grain cart in a barley field on the east side of Steele, N.D., south of Interstate 94 on Aug. 11, 2020. Before truck loads were ready to be hauled back to the farm, Binder was baling straw, which was a bit sparse compared to average. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

STEELE, N.D. — Barley harvest was going well for Michael Binder on Tuesday, Aug. 11, just south of Interstate 94 on the east side of Steele. His crew had two combines going on a calm, sunny day. But the pleasant day couldn’t hide the realities.

“It’s probably a below-average year for us. Prices are not in our favor this year. There’s going to be a lot of struggling in the farming industry in Kidder County, I would say, this year,” he said.

Michael Binder farms about 3,500 acres within 10 miles of Steele, N.D. Photo taken Aug. 11, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

Binder farms barley, wheat, canola, corn, soybeans and field peas on about 3,500 acres within 10 miles of Steele, in central North Dakota. He also has a herd of 150 cow-calf pairs.

Binder’s malt barley seemed to be of fairly good quality, but the bushels weren’t adding up the way he would have liked — not surprising in a year that’s been a struggle from the beginning. Early wet conditions meant he “fought tooth and nail” to get every acre in. Usually, he puts his crops in with no-till techniques, but he had little choice but to till this year to get fields dried down.


“Seed beds were less than ideal conditions even with the tillage,” he said.

He got all but 160 to 200 acres planted, but once the crops were in, dry conditions set in. There was no significant moisture until July.

Michael Binder says his barley seems to have good quality but yields are below average after a dry start to the 2020 growing season caused stress on crops. Photo taken Aug. 11, 2020, at Steele, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

“Our crops went through a lot of stress up until that point,” he said.

That’s showing up in the barley. He hasn’t run quality checks on it yet, but he thought the plumps looked good and suspected protein would, too. “A lot of green tillers that came late” were causing some problems in getting the crop dried down. And though the straw looked decent from a distance, a thin stand meant he was baling only half a bale an acre instead of the bale he expected.

Overall, he said, yields on “heavier dirt” seem OK.

Michael Binder said straw on his barley field was coming in at only half a bale an acre, compared to about a bale an acre most years. Photo taken Aug. 11, 2020, at Steele, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

“We’re definitely off our high-end yields, you know, on an average year, but quality seems to be decent,” he said.


Binder said it’ll be at least two and a half weeks until he moves into spring wheat harvest. Kidder County Extension Agent Penny Nester said farmers in the area are mostly finishing barley or durum harvest, and some have begun combining canola. She hasn’t heard of many people starting spring wheat so far this year, and based on the lack of chatter around the community, she assumes what has been harvested hasn’t been great. She hasn’t heard of much going to the local elevator and thinks many farmers will bin the crop and wait for a better price.

A grain cart driver catches up to a combine in Michael Binder's barley field at Steele, N.D., on Aug. 11, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

Binder’s barley will go into a bin for a time, just to dry down and make sure it’s high enough quality for Anheuser-Busch, where it’s contracted.

And even though some crops look to be below-average, Binder still sees some bright spots. Many ranchers saw low weight gains in cattle on 2019’s wet, lush grass, but he said it looks like his calves have gained well on the drier early grass. Plus, the corn and soybean crops look “super good” after some late moisture, and Binder thinks those could be his “ace in a deck of cards.”

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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