Farmers in Iowa aren't setting any speed records this fall, thanks to the wet weather that's been keeping the combines out of fields. Corn and soybean harvest in Iowa is progressing at the slowest pace in a number of years, according to the weekly USDA Crops & Weather survey. Early yield reports are as variable as the weather.
Yield reports from Iowa Soybean Association members show some really good yields and some that are disappointing. Compared to most farmers in the state, Brock Hansen of Baxter in central Iowa is ahead of the curve, with 30% of his soybeans and 10% of his corn in the bin. He started harvesting beans a month ago, on September 15.
Soybean yields are averaging 55 to 80 bushels per acre, with the high coming on ground that was continuous corn for several years, says Hansen, a Jasper County farmer. "Yields have been really good so far. We will have a storage shortage for corn for sure. I attribute some of our corn yields to a late-season application of urea."
In northwest Iowa too much rain in 2014 drowned yield potential
In northwest Iowa, Curt Sindegaard started combining his beans two weeks ago. Finding beans that aren't too wet has been a challenge. He hasn't started on corn yet. While other parts of Iowa and the Midwest will harvest record yields this fall, Sindegaard says this won't be the case for his farm or for most producers in Pocahontas County.
Soybean yields on his farm range from the low 40s to mid-50s per acre. He's hearing more reports in the 30s than in the 60s. "We had too much rain in June that we lost a lot of acres. Both corn and beans are so variable here this year. If it's going to be a record crop for Iowa, who has it? We will not come close to our averages of 210 bushel per acre for corn and 54 for beans—which we've had the past few years."
Rolland Schnell of Newton in central Iowa one week ago was over 20% finished with soybean harvest. So far yields are some of the best he's ever seen. His lowest yield across the scale so far was 59 bushels per acre. "I've never harvested beans before when the yield monitor would hold in the low to mid-70s clear across the field," he says. "The increased yields will help offset the low prices."
It is mid-October; harvest just now really getting underway
"It's hard to believe that it is mid-October and we are just now really getting well into harvest," observes Clarke McGrath, Iowa State University Extension field agronomist at Harlan in western Iowa. "Today's rain doesn't have a lot of fans, but hopefully the long-term weather forecast will hold true." He made that statement on October 13, a dreary, rainy day in Iowa.
However, as of October 14, the 10-day forecast shows a run of decent temperatures ahead and very low chances of rain, both of which would be very welcome. It has been a frustrating harvest season so far, and stagnating grain markets aren't helping our farmers' moods, notes McGrath.
Speaking of wet fields, McGrath says locally in his area of the state, it costs just short of $300 to have a combine pulled out of a side-hill seep with a wrecker, if you aren't too far from the road and are close to town.
Yields in southwest and western Iowa are also inconsistent
Comparing notes with his colleague Aaron Saeugling, ISU Extension agronomist in southwest Iowa, McGrath says they are seeing a lot of inconsistency in yields in western and southwest Iowa. At least with the early-harvested corn yields. "I've heard some rather ugly reports of yields from fields that died prematurely from Northern Corn Leaf Blight," says McGrath.
"That is, low test weights of 48 to 52 pounds per bushel, and disappointing yields of 120 to 160 bushels per acre on a lot of those acres. On the other hand there have been reports of a few fields in the 220 to 260 bushel range. For the most part, acknowledging that we are early in the game with the 2014 harvest, a yield of 170 to 200 seems to be a common range so far. We have a long way to go, so this could shift up or down pretty easily. There are still a lot of concerns about how long the corn will stand out there."
Soybean yields seem to be doing better than corn yields
What about soybean yields so far? "Soybeans seem to be a little more consistent in most of our area," says McGrath. "For the most part we dodged the huge areas of Sudden Death Syndrome that was so devastating to fields to our north and east. Reports so far have a lot of soybeans yielding in the 50 to 60 bushel range, with some farmers having fields in the mid-to-upper 60's. Again, as more acres come out, we'll have a better idea of what the yield ranges are."
Regarding corn yields, McGrath and Saeugling are hearing some really interesting yield numbers from fungicide applications. "We'll gather more info on that and sort it out, but early reports are that some farmers really benefited from controlling corn diseases this year," says McGrath. "We're also hearing that in a few cases, late applications of herbicides in soybeans aimed at knocking down waterhemp also knocked down the bean yields. Again, we'll get more details and see what we can learn from these fields."
Fall spraying of herbicide can help control winter annual weeds
While enjoying the great outdoors and seeding cover crops over the last couple weeks, McGrath saw that all the rain and soil moisture had gotten a lot of winter annual weeds off and running. While not every field is a good candidate for fall application of herbicides, you don't have to look hard across southern Iowa to find areas where fall spraying would give farmers a head start against some tough-to-manage weeds.
McGrath adds, "I was going to write an article on this topic, and then I remembered a great article from University of Missouri I read that hit the high points. Kevin Bradley, weed control specialist from Mizzou nailed it. He has some great points to ponder and there is even a link to a good slide set on the topic." You can read the article here.
"Now that we've had some frosts, and some fall moisture—too much in most cases—and some time for many winter annuals to emerge, it is time to nail them as you harvest the crops, if you have concerns about these winter annual weeds being an issue by spring," says McGrath. "We had some real issues with spring burndowns not performing as expected this year again; several factors were at play, but the biggest factor was probably the wildly fluctuating temperatures. Given that we face this more often than not with our planting dates and typical weather, in some fields/areas, fall spraying may provide more weather stability for managing these weeds."
He adds, "The bottom line is that if you have challenges with winter annuals—and marestail is probably the most troublesome in our area—fall spraying can make a huge difference. A spring burndown/residual application will still need to be a component of your weed management program; the fall spraying will just help make it much more effective if escapes have been an issue on some of your farms."