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Striving for optimism this harvest season

Harvest is well under way in the Upper Midwest. Optimism, always helpful for farmers, will come in handy once again.

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Soybean condition varies greatly throughout the region, with Iowa and North Dakota lagging other Upper Midwest states. (Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC)

Farmers sometimes describe themselves as optimists who take a leap of faith every crop season. So even though his 2020 harvest pace is slower than he'd like, Park River, N.D., producer Aaron Kjelland is staying upbeat.

"Being optimistic — and I always try to be — I think September will be a good month for harvest," he said.

But optimism isn't easy right now in parts of the Upper Midwest, at least not based on statistics in the weekly crop budget report released Aug. 24 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report reflects crop and harvest status on Aug. 23.

Conditions in Iowa were especially discouraging, the result of mid-August winds of up to 112 mph that damaged nearly half of the state's corn and soybeans. Once-promising corn and soybeans no longer look nearly as good.

Only 50% of Iowa corn was rated good or excellent on Aug. 23, with 29% fair and 21% poor or very poor. As of Aug. 9, before the high winds hit, 69% was good or excellent, 23% fair and 8% poor or very poor.

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And just 56% of the state's soybeans were in good or excellent condition on Aug. 23, with 31% percent fair and 13% poor or very poor. As of Aug. 9, 70% was good or excellent, 23% fair and 7% poor or very poor.

Many of North Dakota's crops are struggling, too, reflecting uncooperative weather last fall, this spring and this summer. Now, crops that were planted later than usual are being harvested later than usual, too.

When Kjelland talked with Agweek in late August, the northeast North Dakota farmer had harvested only about a third of his spring wheat, much less than normal. The start of his pinto beans and canola harvests was still weeks away, too.

Kjelland also struggled with harvest delays in 2019, when rains that began in August stretched out into September. But he's doing his best to avoid thinking a repeat is coming this year.

"I'm just trying to stay optimistic," he said.

Here's a look at what the latest crop progress report says about spring wheat, corn and soybeans, the region's three major crops, as well as barley. Remember, statewide average can mask major variations within a state. All the statistics are for Aug. 23.

Spring wheat

Montana — 55% of the state's spring wheat was harvested, down slightly from the five-year average of 57%.

Minnesota — 54% of the crop was combined, down from the five-year average of 69%.

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North Dakota — 39% of the crop was harvested, down from the five-year average of 59%.

South Dakota — 91% of the crop was harvested, up from the five-year average of 81 %.

Corn

Minnesota — 82% of the crop was rated good or excellent, 14% fair and 4% poor or very poor.

North Dakota — 67% of the state's corn was in good or excellent condition, 25% fair and 8% poor or very poor.

South Dakota — 74% of the crop was in good or excellent shape, 18% fair and 8% poor or very poor.

Soybeans

North Dakota — 66% of the crop was in good or excellent condition, 28% fair and 4% poor or very poor.

South Dakota — 72% of the crop was rated good or excellent, 20% fair and 8% poor or very poor.

Minnesota — 82% was in good or excellent shape, 14% fair and 4% fair.

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Barley

Montana — 54% of the crop was harvested, down from the five-year average of 67%.

Minnesota — 89% of barley was combined, up from the five-year average of 84%.

North Dakota — 44% of the crop was harvested, down sharply from the five-year average of 75%.

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