Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Red River Valley harvest produces high yields that ease low crop prices, weather woes for some farmers

It's been a challenging year for farmers in the Red River Valley, but despite the low commodity prices and onslaught of damaging weather, those who pulled in their crops may be pleasantly surprised by their harvest.

Tom Kallock harvest corn
Tom Kallock harvests a field of corn west of Emerado, N.D. Herald file photo by Eric Hylden

It's been a challenging year for farmers in the Red River Valley, but despite the low commodity prices and onslaught of damaging weather, those who pulled in their crops may be pleasantly surprised by their harvest.

The late-season crops mostly are finished in North Dakota and Minnesota, according to recent reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The corn and sunflower harvest in North Dakota was 97 percent finished, only slightly behind last year's numbers, according to a report from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service released Monday. In Minnesota, the harvest is over in many areas, and some producers hope to finish out harvesting, tillage and manure application before the winter sets in.

Both states expect to have record crops for corn, soybeans and sugar beets, according to the USDA. North Dakota farmers are expected to produce a record-breaking 501 million bushels of corn, up 53 percent from last year's harvest. Corn yields are expected to average 154 bushels per acre, up 26 bushels from last year.

In Minnesota, farmers should bring in 1.52 billion bushels of corn, exceeding last year's record of 1.43 billion bushels. Corn yields should average a record 190 bushels per acre.

But some farmers could see higher corn yields, Grand Forks County Extension Agent Willie Huot said Wednesday. The average in his county should come in at 165 to 185 bushels per acre, well above last year's average of 139 bushels. Some more favorable crops could produce 230 bushels per acre or higher, he said.


"Overall, all of the crops came off with good yields this year," he said, adding farmers in the southern Red River Valley likely will have higher yields than producers in the north. "The only (crop) that will be limited would probably be the edible beans."

Rough year

The news of big crops and yields comes after crop prices have fallen dramatically in the past several years. This summer, prices dropped to lows not seen since 2009.

Corn, for example, averaged $6.46 per bushel, the highest it's been in the past decade. Corn prices for the Chicago Board of Trade fell to just above $3 a bushel at the end of August. Though corn has been on a downward trend in recent days, it was up Thursday from late August, selling for $3.43 a bushel as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Wheat prices followed a similar trend, dropping below $3.75 per bushel toward the end of August compared with the 2012 average of $8.07. Wheat sold for $3.96 a bushel as of Thursday afternoon on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Soybeans fared better, selling for $10.35 a bushel Thursday. Though not on par with midsummer prices, which exceeded $11.50 per bushel, it's above prices from December and early 2016, when soybeans lingered below $9 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Weather also plagued farmers in the Red River Valley, particularly in northeastern North Dakota. Hail, wind and rain dislodged some crops, while oversaturated soil left some fields flooded.

Farmers in Pembina County still are struggling to get into the fields because the ground is still wet, Pembina County Extension Agent Samantha Lahman said Thursday. Plots with corn, beets and beans still are standing as farmers wait for the ground to freeze so they can drive on the fields, she added.


"They may just have to stay," she said of the unharvested crops. "It was so odd. We just got too much rain for so long that it was too saturated to get in."

She said the corn yields were average for those who were able to get into the fields, though some reported yields as low as 40 bushels an acre.

On top of that, grain storage is limited since farmers still have last year's harvest in the bin as they wait for prices to improve, Huot said. That means producers had to either find or build storage, sell their crops at discounted prices or store their crops in the open on the ground. Farmers who did store grain on the ground could see more spoilage since it has been a wet year.

Despite those problems, the harvest ended better than expected, Huot said. The yields will help offset losses for some farmers, he said.

"It's going to vary a great deal," he said. "There are some farmers who will generate some good profits and other farmers who will certainly lose some money."

What crop prices will do next is anyone's guess, so farmers are more likely to continue the waiting game to see if they can send their grain to market for more money, Huot said.

What To Read Next
Get Local