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Very Dry Tillage Conditions and Corn Harvest Progress


Completing fall tillage has been a struggle for farm operators in many areas of southern and western Minnesota, due to the extremely dry topsoil conditions. Most of southwest and south-central Minnesota is now listed as being in a moderate drought, with nearly the entire state categorized at abnormally dry. Most areas of the region have received region have received less than 2 in. of rainfall since late July, and several locations have received less than 1 in. of rain in that period. In addition to difficulties for primary fall tillage, the dry soil conditions have lead to some growers suspending fall nitrogen (N) applications, due to concern over N loss.

The 2011 corn and soybean harvest is virtually completed in most areas of Minnesota, with the exception of a few localized fields and farms. The extended period of warm temperatures and very dry weather was almost ideal for a very rapid completion of harvest in 2011. However, the lack of rainfall in the past three months has lead to less than three inches of stored soil moisture in the top 5 ft. of soil, which is the lowest in several years, and is about 25-35% of maximum capacity. This could become a concern as we head into the 2012 growing season.

In most areas of southern Minnesota, the 2011 harvest was highly variable, mainly due to the erratic weather conditions during the growing season. Whole-field corn yields generally ranged from 140-180 bu./acre, with large variations occurring, sometimes on the same farm, or in the same township. Some whole-field yield levels were even lower in areas that were hard-hit by late spring planting, severe storms, the very dry late-season weather pattern or the Sept. 15 frost. Some higher corn yields existed in southeast Minnesota, which had a bit more favorable growing conditions late in the growing season. There were also yield differences based on corn hybrid selection in 2011, as well as the crop rotation sequence that was used.

The good news with the 2011 corn harvest was the dryness of the corn and the quality of the corn at harvest. Most of the corn harvested in southern Minnesota in October was at 13-17% moisture, meaning it could go directly to farm grain bins without additional drying, or could be hauled to grain warehouses with little or no price dockage for excess kernel moisture. Most of the 2011 corn crop was harvested with a test weight of 57-60 lbs./bu., which is above the standard test weight of 56 lbs. This corn quality results in higher quality corn for processors, and in improved feed efficiency for livestock producers. The corn moisture and quality in 2011 was very similar to con harvest conditions in 2010.

By comparison, in early-November of 2009, over half of the corn remained to be harvested, and most corn was being harvested at 24-30% moisture, requiring considerable drying before being placed in storage, while corn test weights were 49-52 lbs./bu. This resulted in very high corn drying costs in 2009, as well as large discounts for moisture and corn quality on 2009 corn that was sold at harvest.

In late October, the local corn prices in southern Minnesota have been near $6-6.25. The current local prices for corn are about $1/bu. lower than new crop corn prices in early September, but are about $1/bu. higher than local cash corn prices in late October of 2010, and about $2.50 above local corn prices two years earlier in fall 2009. So, even if some corn yields are a bit disappointing, the overall profit from the 2011 corn crop will likely be comparable to 2010 levels for most producers, due to higher corn prices.



Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at [email protected].com.

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