October 19, 2016
After a wet spring, a long and hot summer, and a wet fall for parts of the state, combines have been rolling across Nebraska. However, harvest is moving slowly for many parts of Nebraska, and despite USDA's prediction of record yields in mid-August, yields so far have been average to above average.
Here's a look at how harvest is coming along in different regions of Nebraska.
BEHIND SCHEDULE: A farmer harvests soybeans in eastern Nebraska in early October. Depending on the location, soybean harvest has been behind schedule in Nebraska, with wetter, humid conditions contributing to a slower drydown period.
Like much of the state, yields in east-central Nebraska have been average to above average. However, harvest is moving along slowly, says Nathan Mueller, Nebraska Extension cropping systems educator in Dodge and Washington counties. "Right now our percentage harvested is behind normal, especially for soybeans," Mueller says. "Soybeans are later than normal; they've taken longer to dry down and mature than in years' past."
As of Oct. 14, about 20% of soybeans and 20% of corn in Dodge County was harvested.
Much like the rest of the state, Dodge and Washington counties saw their share of challenges this year, starting with stand emergence issues in corn early on followed by heavy rainfall in late April leading to seedling diseases and damping off. Then came the three-week hot-and-dry period in June, which Mueller notes was the highest water demand (reference ET) period for the year.
"The biggest weather event that affected corn yield this year was the July 5 windstorm that resulted in about 75,000 acres of wind-damaged corn," says Mueller. "The biggest challenge is the growers that got caught with green snap — a lot of them didn't have a specific wind insurance policy covering that top-end yield."
Despite these challenges, based on the crop tour Mueller conducted in early September, there will be some above-average yields in Dodge County, he says. On this tour, the corn yield average for the county was 184 bushels per acre, a 13-bushel decline from last year, while the soybean average was 62, a 4-bushel increase.
"For soybean yields, I've heard from growers harvesting in the low 60s to the upper 70s for field averages; a lot are in the mid-60s," Mueller says. "For corn, we're hearing anywhere from 200 bushels per acre to 210 on dryland acres."
Harvest has also been slow in the southeast parts of the state, such as Lancaster County, with wet, rainy, and humid weather slowing soybean harvest, says Tyler Williams, Extension educator for the county. This year, many are harvesting corn and soybeans simultaneously.
Yields have been variable depending on the field. This year, corn and soybean growers faced a wide range of challenges. "For the people I've talked to, there's been an asterisk next to every cornfield," says Williams. "This field might have been drowned out. In this one, we might have seen some late-season disease that didn't get taken care. There seemed to be something on every field that resulted in it not yielding what it could have."
One of the biggest factors was the hot, dry weather for three weeks in June. "Some of the highest water-use days in the growing season were in early June. There was some stress in some fields in southeast Nebraska. Sometimes when it gets that hot and windy, leaves are going to curl due to heat stress, but I think water stress was a problem for some," Williams says. "With the potential evapotranspiration rate up to 40/100 of an inch of water a day, it doesn't take long to dry out the soil."
Still, many growers in Lancaster County are seeing corn and soybean yields at or above average. Williams has heard of soybean yields commonly ranging from 50 to 60 bushels per acre, with some up in the 70-bushel range, while corn yields are averaging around 170 to 180 and higher on more productive ground. "Almost everyone I've talked to has been pretty happy with soybeans yields," Williams says. "All in all, it's probably above-average to near average across the board, but the range is pretty wide."
In the south-central part of the state, where rainfall has been sparser, harvest has been moving along a little faster. For example in Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties, soybeans are anywhere from 60% to 80% harvested, while corn is from 30% to 40% finished. In York County, soybeans are about 50% to 60% finished, while corn is closer to 30% to 35%, says Jennifer Rees, Extension educator in York/Seward Counties.
While it's a little too early to say how corn yields are coming along, soybeans yields have ranged from highs of around 50 bushels per acre in drought-afflicted areas to earlier-planted fields as high as 80+ bushels.
Like the rest of the state, "that record crop is not out there for this part of Nebraska,” Rees notes. "There are rain-fed fields in parts of the state where it looks really good — above-average. But for our part of the state, we're looking at just average to even below yields," she says.
This is largely thanks to the hot, dry periods experienced in June. South-central Nebraska also experienced heavy winds resulting in green snap in July, insect pressure from western bean cutworm and grasshoppers, and diseases like gray leaf spot and southern rust later on in the season.
"As we've gone into the grain-fill and drydown period, we had lower solar radiation, so our corn basically started dying out in the fields. We had a lot of tops blown out of corn," Rees says. "We saw some anthracnose in fields, but we also saw plants just dying or just stopping and not continuing to fill ears
While most of the state isn't experiencing an extreme drydown, counties in the south-central part of the state are seeing corn moisture levels decline at a fast pace, Rees adds. "We have 111- and 113-day corn that's getting down to 13.5% to 15% already," she says. "I think that's why harvest is going so fast."
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