Relying on Mother Nature
Harvesting during a drought year, rain during harvest time
It hasn’t been an easy year for farmers with drought and then rain coming during harvest.
Paige Brummund, Ward County Extension agent-Agriculture and Natural Resources, said, as of early the week of Sept. 23, the majority of the small grains have been harvested.
“There are some acres, primarily in the northern part of the county which is to be expected, that is still left to be harvested but the majority of the small grains are off. There’s not much canola or flax standing anymore either.”
As of the last week of September, she said no corn was being harvest yet and won’t be for awhile. “We still need the corn to dry down quite a bit,” she said. She said some silage corn was being chopped but she had not seen any grain corn being combined
Brummund said only about 30,000 acres of corn were planted in Ward County in 2016, according to available statistics, and this year that acreage is even less.
Brummund said there’s a couple reasons for the lower corn acreage.
“It’s not as profitable. There’s not as big of a margin of return on corn,” she said. “The farther north you get up here, the shorter growing day that you have so you often have to pick a variety that has a shorter growing season and the yield isn’t as high.” If the growing season is longer, she said producers can run into issues in getting it dried down in time.
She said there’s also some drying costs and storage costs associated with corn so it just isn’t as popular in the area.
She said the majority of those who plant corn have a market for it – cattle feed or they may even take it to the ethanol plant.
The other part of the corn acres is silage corn for people who are feeding cattle. “It’s a different game itself. Silage corn will be a taller variety, stays green longer and produces more tonnage – more plant material,” she said.
Brummund said soybeans are “hit and miss” across the county. “We were dry this year and we were dry in August which is the key time for soybeans to be filling their pods and needing some moisture,” she said. She figured the yields might be average to below average due to the drought stress this summer.
The worst drought spots were in the east side of Ward County but it was dry all across the county, she added.
“You have that challenge, and we have the current marketing challenge for soybeans,” she said.
As of early in the last week of September, she said some have started to harvest soybeans but it has been very slow. “For the most part, the majority of soybeans are still drying down,” she said. She said the rain the week before has everyone waiting for some sunshine to get going again.
She said there aren’t as many sunflowers as in the past two years but still there’s significant numbers of sunflower acreage (confection and oil) in Ward County. “They’ve been looking OK this year,” she said. She said sunflowers are better with tapping the root system down to access moisture. When they’re up and growing, she said sunflowers can handle a little bit more drought than some other crops and still produce.
“The drought is going to affect some crops’ yields and there’s always weed control challenges when you’re in a dry season as well,” Brummund said.
The drought has also impacted rangeland grazing, she said. She said some pastures are struggling to recover from last year’s drought and with the lack of moisture this year, that’s been hurting production as well.
What’s ahead for next year?
“You can’t predict Mother Nature so you have to try to manage what you have – try to conserve as much moisture as you can,” she said. She said that’s one of the reasons no till is very popular here.
“You have to just manage with what you are given. There are things you can do – being aware and planting crops that are more resistant to drought. There’s varieties within crops that handle drought better so maybe selecting those in years that are forecasted to be dry might be a good plan as well,” Brummund.
“Farming is tough because you do rely on Mother Nature and it’s hard to predict to plant around that. A lot of things are out of a farmer’s control,” she said.