The calendar is steadily marching toward fall harvest. My husband’s work hours at the local grain elevator have reclaimed his Saturdays as well as many of his evenings since the end of July, but his harvest hours will take all of his daylight—as happens with nearly every farmer in the Midwest when the combine enters the first field.
Conditions seem to be improving a little out there. At the end of August, the U.S. Drought Monitor forecasted regression in the drought through the month of September for a small portion of northeast South Dakota and scatterings through Nebraska. There were some timely rains last week, not too late for filling soybean pods.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center suggests mostly dry conditions through September and into October, which will make harvest easy and fast. Most years, we get to the point of getting equipment into the fields and then endure a week of damp weather, so don’t be surprised if this happens again and try not to get frustrated. The weather will dry out. South Dakota and Nebraska have always trended more toward drought than rainforest.
Studying the long-term climate outlooks, it’ll be a flip of the coin on winter temperatures and precipitation chances. This equal-opportunity forecast continues for precipitation chances through next summer, although we look to be in for another atypically warm summer. As we all know from basic chemistry classes, dry conditions plus heat only make for drier conditions.
Our soil moisture levels are reflecting the strain this fall. We could use some regular rains or snows this fall and winter to refill them. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s crop progress report, South Dakota’s topsoil moisture sits at 33% adequate versus 66% short. With subsoil moisture, 23% is adequate and 77% short. Pasture and range condition can be tell-tale of what’s going on below the ground. In South Dakota, none is rated as excellent and 78% is poor to very poor.
In Nebraska, 66% of topsoil moisture is adequate with 32% short. With subsoil moisture, 46% is adequate and 54% is short. Likewise, the range and pasture conditions are not as poor with 5% excellent, 23% good, 40% fair, and 32% poor to very poor.
Subsoil moisture is like our savings account; it’s better if the account is fuller than not. However, for that to happen, we’ll probably need to brush up on our rain dances—and now, with fall harvest imminent, we must be careful of our timing.
According to the crop progress report, 37% of South Dakota’s soybean fields have dropped leaves. This is on par with last year and ahead of the five-year average of 24%. Additionally, 18% of corn has matured. This is near last year’s 21% at this time and ahead of the 11% average. With sorghum, 23% has matured. This is ahead of both last year’s 12% and the 9% average.
In Nebraska, 20% of soybeans have dropped leaves. This is behind last year’s 34% but near the 18% average. So far, 18% of the state’s corn has matured. This is also behind last year’s 25% but near the 14% average. With sorghum, 6% has matured. This is behind last year’s 11% and the 9% average.
Looking at the numbers only, it can be difficult to gauge how quickly harvest is coming. But we know from experience through the years, that the beans turn quickly. Harvest is nearly here.