The 2020 fall harvest season had been progressing at a fairly nice pace across most of the Upper Midwest from late September until mid-October; however, since that point many areas have experienced rain, snow and cold temperatures, which have greatly slowed harvest progress. Fortunately, most of the soybeans and a significant amount of corn had been harvested by mid-October at many locations, which is two weeks or more ahead of normal. Overall, the yields and quality of this year’s crop has been favorable for most producers.
Based on the USDA Crop Progress Report on Oct. 19, it was estimated that 75 percent of the soybeans in the U.S. had been harvested, which compared only 40 percent harvested by this date in 2019 and a 5-year average of 58 percent harvested. In the Upper Midwest, Minnesota lead the way with 96 percent of the soybeans harvested by October 19, followed by North Dakota and Nebraska at 92 percent, with Iowa and South Dakota at 90 percent. Other soybean harvest figures were Illinois at 81 percent, followed by Indiana and Wisconsin, both at 72 percent. By comparison, soybean harvest figures by this date in 2019 were Minnesota at 35 percent, Iowa at 39 percent, North Dakota at 19 percent, and both South Dakota and Wisconsin at 27 percent.
It was estimated that 60 percent of the corn in the U.S. was harvested by October 19, compared to 28 percent in 2019 and a 5-year average of 43 percent. Illinois was the leader in harvested corn acres at 66 percent, followed closely by Iowa at 65 percent, South Dakota at 64 percent, and Minnesota at 63 percent. Nebraska was at 58 percent of the corn harvested on October 19, with North Dakota at 55 percent, Indiana at 48 percent, and Wisconsin at only 27 percent. By comparison, on October 19 in 2019, corn harvest was at only 9 percent in Minnesota, 13 percent n Iowa, 8 percent in south Dakota, 6 percent in Wisconsin, and 3 percent in North Dakota. The 2019 corn harvest in portions of North Dakota and Northwest Minnesota was not completed until spring 2020.
Corn harvest in Minnesota has progressed more rapidly in the southwest and west-central Minnesota, with many farmers completing harvest for 2020. Corn harvest in the eastern half of Minnesota, especially in southeast Minnesota, has been somewhat slower due to wetter field conditions and having crops that were a bit later maturing. The unexpected early wet snowfall has greatly slowed corn harvest in many areas during the last half of October. Earlier-than-normal planting dates in 2020, together with above-normal growing degree units in the summer months in most areas, allowed most corn and soybeans to reach full maturity by the time of the first killing frost.
Overall, the reported soybean yields across southern and western Minnesota have been above average, with some exceptional yields reported in some areas that had more favorable growing conditions. There were reduced soybean yields reported in portions of the region that were impacted by excess rainfall or by hail and severe storms. It has not been unusual to hear of yield monitor and weigh wagon yields in some portions of the region that were well above 70 bushels per acre; however, once whole-field yields were calculated, dividing the total bushels harvested by the total acres planted, most whole-farm soybean yields in southern Minnesota are more likely to be in the mid-50s to low 60s. For farmers in southwest and south-central Minnesota, the 2020 soybean yields are 20-30 percent or more above the 2019 yields, which were greatly reduced by late planting and excess moisture.
2020 corn yields in many areas have also been above average, due to earlier than normal planting dates and favorable growing conditions throughout much of the 2020 growing season. However, just as with the soybeans, corn yields in some portions of the region have also been highly variable, depending on excessive rainfall during the growing season and impacts from late season dry weather in some areas. There have been several whole-field yield reports of 200 bushels per acre or higher in southern Minnesota, with somewhat lower yields farther north in in Minnesota and in areas that were more severely impacted by the adverse weather situations. Farmers in some portions of the region are reporting their best corn yields in the past three or four years.
Moisture and test weights
Another piece of good news for producers regarding the 2020 corn harvest has been the harvest moisture of the corn coming out of the field. Most of the corn being harvested this fall has been under 20 percent moisture, which has resulted in a reduced amount of additional drying is required before the corn is placed in on-farm bins for storage. Corn should be dried to about 15-16 percent moisture before going into the grain bin for safe storage until next spring or summer. In fact, some corn has been harvested at that level or lower and has been able to be placed in grain bins without additional drying. In 2019, much of the corn was harvested at moisture contents of 24-30 percent, resulting in very high drying costs along with the poor yields in 2019.
The test weight of the corn being harvested has also been a pleasant surprise this year, with most corn having a test weight of 56-59 pounds per bushel. The standard test weight when selling corn to market is 56 pounds per bushel. In 2019, much of the corn was harvested at a test weight of 50-54 pounds per bushel. Except for areas that were impacted by severe storms in the summer months, such as the derecho storm in central Iowa, the stalk strength of the corn has been fairly good this Fall. Harvest conditions in Iowa and surrounding states that were impacted by the mid-August derecho storm have been very difficult with very poor yields.
Tillage and fertilizer
Fall tillage and manure applications have been occurring as soon as harvest is completed; however, those operations could be more challenging in many locations going forward, following the wet snowfall and saturated topsoil conditions. This type of soil situation can make it difficult for quality tillage and may require leaving portions of fields without fall tillage or manure applications.
Producers in some areas of the region typically apply nitrogen fertilizer for the corn crop that will be raised in the following year, once the current year’s harvest is completed. It is recommended to wait until soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or lower to apply nitrogen in the fall in order to avoid significant losses; however, this should not be a concern this fall. Farm operators are reminded to follow the new statewide restrictions for fall nitrogen fertilizer application in their area of Minnesota and for the soil types on their farms. These restrictions are being enacted in 2020 as part of the Minnesota Groundwater Protection Rule. The nitrogen application restrictions are available on the MN Department of Ag website.