SD soybean harvest shows variable results

A dry August has cut yield potential in some places, but farmers are finding improvement over 2019.

South Dakota farmers started out the 2020 growing season with high hopes for the soybean crop but are finding mixed results this harvest season.

Yields are better than last fall, but 2019 was a disastrous year with record prevented planting acres in South Dakota. However, the top end yield was trimmed by hot and dry weather in August on what looked like a record crop, so there are also some disappointing results.

Jim Ruhland is a field agronomist for Pioneer and covers east central South Dakota. He says early soybean yield results have been all over the board, from the 20s to over 60 bushels per acre. He says it is largely as a function of the drainage situation, which resulted in too much water in some fields in the spring, plus the lack of moisture in many areas in August. He says the soybean crop farther north in South Dakota also got hit with a little bit of frost in September when temperatures dropped into the mid 20s to lower 30s for subsequent days.

“So just a lot of things added up. Still good yields but they maybe just missed out on some super yields,” he says.

Weed control was also a problem in soybeans this year, especially those fields where farmers were dealing with resistant kochia and water hemp. Ruhland says this weed pressure also shaved some yield, so farmers may need to change their approach to their herbicide programs in 2021.


“Maybe farmers should consider a fall product or layering their residuals,” he says. Plus, there are various soybean trait platforms that can provide solutions. On the disease front Ruhland says Phytopthora pressure was also heavy this season.

Farmers in southeast South Dakota were also hit hard by excessive moisture last year and many took prevented planting. However, this fall, the harvest is a 180-degree change with the dry weather. Tim Ostrem farms in the Centerville area and has both irrigated and dryland soybeans on the acres he farms. He says the early yields in his fields have been variable.

“Yields are running in our area anywhere from 50 to 60 bushels per acre on dryland. There are some spots in fields that are definitely down in the 25- to 30-bushel-per-acre area that pulls down the average,” he says.

Ostrem says some of his irrigated fields are yielding higher than the dryland fields.

The soybean plants, according to Ostrem, are loaded with pods and to start off August he anticipated 70- to 80-bushels beans. However, with the lack of moisture to finish off the crop the seeds are very small.

“All of August was dry and took off 20% of our yield. We probably would have had the best crop of beans we ever would have had but unfortunately the rains didn’t come through for us, in our part of the state anyway," he says.

The soybean harvest is about two weeks ahead of schedule in southeast South Dakota. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Crop Progress report pegged soybean harvest in the state as of Sept. 27 at 29%, which is well ahead of the 13% five-year average. The crop is also drying down very fast, and Ostrem says the moisture levels on his soybeans have already dropped down to only 9% moisture. But some other farmers have had moisture levels at only 7% or 8%.

“That’s why we’re keeping at it, trying to harvest the crop before we lose any more moisture, because moisture is yield, too,” he says.


Yet, Ostrem says it is still a good soybean crop for his farm and the prices have improved enough to help make up for some of the lost yield potential.

“With an average of 50-bushel soybeans and $9 to $10 soybeans, it's going to help pay some of the bills,” he says.

Ostrem says they also sell some of their soybeans as seed beans, which also garner a premium.

Farmers are more optimistic about the soybean market this fall due to the record export pace so far for the 2020-21 crop. This has largely been attributed to robust buying by China as part of the phase one deal, and as they replenish their reserves with $18 soybeans in their country. Ostrem is hopeful that buying will continue to support prices.

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