Dry Harvest

Dry conditions have allowed harvesting in the region to proceed at a quick, unhindered pace.

Last month, we were patiently awaiting the start of harvest. This month, we are in the thick of things.

It seems like harvest is moving along much quicker than most years. I’m assuming this is because of the relatively mild fall that we’ve been having with very few rain delays.

I’ve been enjoying all the fall color in trees this year. Even my red oak’s leaves are starting to fade to red. Most years, the green leaves freeze-dry and shrivel to the twigs. Many of the trees at my home are yellow, some with a hint of orange; others remain green.

I wouldn’t guess that it is October except for the date that greets me from my smartphone lock screen. The recent cold snap also betrayed the season, necessitating that I turn on the furnace and bring the hibiscus, geraniums, coleus and other potted plants that can’t survive a hard freeze. I’ve seen some frosty mornings but not a hard freeze yet.

According to the Oct. 18 Crop Progress Report from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, South Dakota’s corn harvest is 51% completed — which is behind 60% last year at this time but well ahead of the five-year average of 27% — and soybeans are 86% harvested, near last year’s 89% and also well ahead of the 57% on average.

In Nebraska, 41% of the corn harvest is done — slightly behind last year’s 55% but well ahead of the five-year average at this point on the calendar, at 33%. As far as soybeans go, 76% of Nebraska’s fields have been harvested — behind last year’s 91% but ahead of the average at 58%.

While dry conditions have helped get and keep harvest equipment in the fields, it’s coming at a price. According to the USDA report, half of South Dakota’s topsoil (51%) is short to very short of moisture — a measure of total rainfall as of late — and nearly two-thirds of the state’s subsoil (57%) is short to very short, a more accurate measure of drought severity. Pasture condition tends to reflect soil moisture, and in South Dakota, a whopping 79% of the state’s pasture and range is rated poor to very poor in condition. Only 3% of the state’s pastures are rated good and none are excellent quality.

Nebraska, per the USDA report, is faring better. Of the state’s topsoil, 59% contain adequate moisture with 40% short to very short. More subsoil (53%) is short to very short. Pasture condition sits at 15% good to excellent and 30% poor to very poor.

Nebraska’s drought is not as dire as South Dakota. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows drought in much of both states, including the Yankton area and northeast Nebraska. There continues to be a prediction floating around that the drought conditions will improve here through this month, perhaps even having the drought designation lifted yet this fall.

The long-term outlook has changed somewhat, forecasting equal chances for higher-than-typical, typical or lower-than-typical in both precipitation and temperature patterns. What that means for us, and for our farmers, is that this winter’s weather will be a gamble. We may have unseasonably warm, cold, wet or dry weather or seasonable or a mix of both seasonable and unseasonable. It’ll be a grab-bag type of winter, for better or worse.

I encourage you to pray for rain and snow events. Sure, you can wait until after harvest is done … but it’ll be easier on both crop and livestock farmers if we’re heading into spring with a little more in our soil moisture “savings accounts,” as I like to call them.

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