Ongoing drought conditions continue to affect the fall harvest, which is now nearly a month ahead of schedule.
A report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates 53 percent of the state’s corn crop has already been harvested, a figure that is significantly higher than last year’s pace of 10 percent and 29 days ahead of the 10-year average.
The corn crop continues to suffer as a record drought that began across the state this spring has shown few signs of breaking.
USDA estimates place 42 percent of Nebraska’s corn crop at poor or very poor with just 32 percent in good to excellent condition — well below the average of 78 percent.
Irrigated corn rated 53 percent good to excellent, according to the USDA, but dryland crops came in at a 2 percent.
Locally, Allan Vyhnalek, an educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension office in Columbus, said this year’s harvest is near the halfway point, with some farmers already done and others lagging a bit behind.
Production, he said, has been “very variable” depending on the availability of water and soil moisture levels.
According to Vyhnalek, local farmers are reporting yields anywhere from a total loss to 80-90 bushels an acre on dryland corn with 70-80 bushels per acre standing as the average.
“That’s not 180 or 190 like last year, but it’s something,” he said.
Vyhnalek credited advancements in hybrid seed technology as the main factor for decent corn production in the dry conditions, noting that the same drought three or four decades ago would have killed the entire crop.
In irrigated fields, Vyhnalek said yields are ranging from good to outstanding, however, there can be as much as a 100 bushel difference in the same field depending on the soil type.
The USDA dropped its estimates for corn production in August as the drought began to show its effects on most Midwest and other corn-producing states.
That estimate placed national production at 10.8 billion bushels, down 13 percent from 2011, and cut Nebraska’s projected output to 1.34 billion bushels, also down 13 percent from last year.
Nebraska’s corn crop would be the smallest since 2006 if that forecast holds.
The same story is true for soybeans.
Nationwide, the USDA expects 2.69 billion bushels to be produced, down 12 percent from 2011, while Nebraska’s crop is expected to come in at 215 million bushels, a 17 percent drop from last year and the smallest total since 2007.
Nearly half the state’s soybean crop, 48 percent, is already out of the field, a pace that’s 11 days ahead of average. Last year, 15 percent of Nebraska soybeans were harvested by this time.
Vyhnalek said the harvest was moved forward by a growing season that began in late March, about three weeks earlier than normal.
The problem now is some soybean plants are still green, but the dry pods are popping and dropping the mature soybeans to the ground.
Vyhnalek said this issue is typically resolved after a hard freeze, which could come this week according to some forecasts.
From a yield perspective, Vyhnalek said soybeans are experiencing the same variability as corn, with some irrigated fields producing an “exceptional” crop.
“They bought their crop,” he said. “They had to put a lot of water out there. It cost a lot of money to irrigate this year.”
Vyhnalek said finding feed for cattle also continues to be an issue as little rainfall in August and September ended the chance to regrow pastures this fall.
The USDA currently rates 98 percent of the state’s pasture ground at poor or very poor.