My husband came home from his job of managing the local grain elevator, declaring that this fall’s harvest hours have officially ended. I was dubious, but he’s been home by 4:30 every afternoon this week, so it seems that harvest is now done.

Most fields are bare, having seen their combines, and anhydrous tanks are populating the roads more than tractor-combine caravans. I know a few farmers who are still wrapping up on harvest, but many have turned their attention to fall fieldwork in preparation of next spring’s planting. My husband’s crew covered the corn pile on the ground with a tarp, apparently signaling that the pile will no longer be added to.

According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, South Dakota and Nebraska’s crop progress reports favor an early end to harvest. In South Dakota, 81% of the corn harvest is complete. This behind the 91% done at this time last year, but well ahead of the five-year average of 68%. In Nebraska, 82% of the corn harvest is done. This is behind last year’s 92%, but ahead of the average of 78%.

Last year by this time, soybean harvest was done in Nebraska. So far, per the USDA report, 95% of the state’s beans have been cut. This is on track with the average of 96% done.

Overall, though, largely dry and mild weather this fall has enabled farmers to get into the fields most days and harvest is coming to an end a couple weeks before normal. Generally, the hope is for my husband to be off harvest hours by Thanksgiving. We are a good couple weeks ahead of this.

I like having my husband back in the evenings and on weekends, and he likes falling asleep on the couch more than fixing an auger in the dark. I know we’re not the only couple readjusting our marriage post-harvest.

We live somewhere that most farmers have access to irrigation. That certainly isn’t true for all or even most of the Yankton area. We all could stand to see more precipitation before next March and April, but many farmers need the rain more. Long-range weather forecasts aren’t sparking much confidence that this is going to happen. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Southeast South Dakota and Northeast Nebraska remain in a moderate drought with western pockets of severe drought.

Much of the rest of the states are dealing with abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions, per the Drought Monitor. Drought conditions are expected to persist through the month of November, December, and January. There are equal chances for above-, below-, and at-normal precipitation and temperatures this winter.

Pasture conditions are telling for what’s happening underground. According to the USDA condition report, there are no pastures in South Dakota rated as excellent in condition. A total of 9% of the state’s pastures are rated good, 19% fair, and a whopping 72% as poor to very poor. On the Nebraska side, 17% of pastures are in good to excellent condition, 51% fair, and 32% poor to very poor.

So, what is going on below the surface? The report goes on to describe how 61% of South Dakota’s topsoil is adequate in moisture and 33% is short to very short. For Nebraska, 63% of topsoil moisture is adequate and 35% is short to very short.

Think of the topsoil moisture like a checking account. This is how next year’s crops, as well as current pastures and stock dams, access immediate moisture. Subsoil is like a savings account and is a more telling indicator of drought conditions, as topsoil only holds moisture for so long before it seeps down into the subsoil.

The USDA report describes how 52% of South Dakota’s subsoil is adequate in moisture and 45% is short to very short. In Nebraska, 49% of subsoil moisture is adequate and 50% is short to very short.

Expect the short to very short ratings to rise unless the states have a winter with regular snowfalls or rain events. Of course, many of us would prefer a drier winter for driving conditions but we need a wetter winter for our agricultural economy. Keep this in mind the next time a semi kicks up a glob of snirt (snow and dirt mixed together) on your windshield for the hundredth time while on Highway 81 this winter. Snirt’s short-term annoyance is a farmer’s long-term hope.

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