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'Our turn to be dry,' farmer says as harvest reveals sub-par yields

Johnson, who farms near Breckenridge in the southern Red River Valley of Minnesota, said a lack of late season rains hurt his corn, soybeans and sugarbeets.

Tractor pulling a beet lifter filling a truck.
Vance Johnson fills a truck with sugarbeets on his last day of beet harvest on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, near Breckenridge, Minnesota.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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Editor's note: Jeff Beach will be checking up with Vance Johnson throughout the growing season as part of our Follow a Farmer series.

BRECKENRIDGE, Minn. — “I guess it was our turn to be dry,” Vance Johnson said as the sky was spitting sleet onto one of his sugarbeets fields.

The flecks of freezing rain were far too little and far too late to bring yields up in his beets, corn and soybeans.

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Vance Johnson was finishing up sugarbeets on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. He was then going to turn his attention to the remainder of his soybeans and then his corn.
Evan Girtz / Agweek

“Last year we were catching some of the timely rains and fared well, decently, at harvest,” Johnson said of his area of the southern Red River Valley, compared to other drought-stricken areas of North Dakota and northern Minnesota. “This year, we’re taking the hit and yields are subpar at best.”

Johnson, who grows sugarbeets for Minn-Dak Farmer’s Co-op in Wahpeton, North Dakota, was finishing his beet harvest on Oct. 14, just over a week after it started and a few days after the area’s first frost.

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“The harvest has actually gone fairly well,” Johnson said, though the fields are dry and hard.

“We’ve had some good luck and not had a lot of breakdowns,” Johnson said. “Talking with some neighbors, there’s been some serious issues because of the hard ground.”

Close up of a sugarbeet
A stray sugarbeet lays in one Vance Johnson's fields near Breckenridge, Minnesota, on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. The hard ground had made harvesting been a challenge in the area.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

The short harvest window asks a lot of a beet lifter and other machinery.

“There’s a lot of pressure — you’re trying to push those wheels into the ground and it doesn’t want to give,” Johnson said.

He was finishing harvest with a field where he had interseeded a cover crop mixture at the beginning of September with the hope of having it get established before the end of the growing season.

But the dry weather left him with not much to show for his efforts.

“Some came up but there wasn’t enough moisture after we seeded it or in the ground to really get it up and going good,” Johnson said.

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A tractor pulls a beet topper through one of Vance Johnson's fields near Breckenridge, Minnesota, on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

Johnson had used another small beet field to test different tillage and cover crop techniques.

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But he said the hard ground made it difficult to see much of a difference in yield, which was poor, or soil health.

He said the no-till and conventional till areas of the field seemed about the same.

“Strip till is probably the loser,” Johnson said but added that the assessment was preliminary, and some data from Minn-Dak and other sources may tell a different story.

After sugarbeets, Johnson planned to go back and finish harvesting soybeans, with about a third of his crop still in the field.

Johnson, who has fields near Christine, North Dakota, to the west and Rothsay, Minnesota, to the east, said the overall farm average yield would be below normal. “It’s very spotty on whether you caught a shower or not,” he said.

After that will come his corn. Despite a late planting year, the crop did get enough growing season to reach maturity and the dry fall means wet corn won’t be an issue.

“We had no issues as far as making maturity on anything; we did well that way,” Johnson said. “We ran out of moisture and just dried up.”

Looking back on a growing season that started too wet and ended too dry, Johnson said with a laugh, “Let's move on from this one and get into the next one.”

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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