Challenging year brings bountiful harvests in Minnesota

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Harvest is wrapping up this Thanksgiving week in Minnesota, with farmers bringing in corn and other crops from the last remaining acres, and many of them are seeing pleasant surprises scroll across the yield monitors in their combines.

“I’m thankful for another safe and bountiful harvest season,” said Kirby Hettver, a farmer near Willmar who is also president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “Obviously, we would like prices to be a little higher, but I am thankful for the crop that we had this year and for the opportunities we have every year that we choose to take on as farmers.”

Hettver is one of many Minnesota farmers who have seen above-average, and in some cases record-breaking corn yields this year.

In the November 9 Crop Production report, USDA experts estimated that Minnesota farmers will have brought in an average of 190 bushels per acre—a six bushel increase over the USDA’s October yield estimate.

Nationally, USDA reports that total corn production will reach 14.5-billion bushels this year, a 3.7-percent drop from last year’s 15.15-billion bushel corn crop. Nationally, corn will average 175.4 bushels per acre—Minnesota is way ahead the the pack, with the third highest estimated yield in the nation.

Brian Thalmann, who farms in Plato, attributes the higher yields to the improving art and science of farming.

“Genetics keep improving, and farming practices are improving right alongside,” said Thalmann. “Most everyone now seems to be doing site-specific farming, regarding seed selection, seed placement, fertilizer rates and placement. The variable-rate technology has just allowed all these fields to be fine-tuned.”

This year, a slow-to-mature crop and numerous rain and snow events made harvest 2017 a drawn out process in Minnesota.

“This season the crop was behind from the get-go,” said Hettver.

Hettver said typically the goal is to have all corn planted by May, but the spring weather delayed the start of planting until May. Thankfully, Mother Nature cooperated better on the back end to preserve a healthy crop.

“Warmer temperatures in September and the late arrival of the killing frost gave the crop the time it needed to mature. Cool nights, as the corn was filling, towards maturity—that certainly helped to add test-weight and kernel depth and yield to our crop,” he said.

Still, it has taken a long time to bring it all in.

“This ranks right up there as one of the toughest harvest seasons we can remember,” said Les Anderson, who was recently putting the finishing touches on his 36th season as a farmer near Red Wing. “A year like this reminds you that Mother Nature is in charge. As it gets this late in the year, you are working in the dark a lot, you are working in the cold. It seems like the amount of work just doubles in order to accomplish the same things.”

But then Anderson saw the numbers in the yield monitor, leading to the best yielding corn crop he’s ever planted. Thalmann also saw record-breaking yields.

“Last year was a record, and we beat last year by 10 bushels an acre,” said Thalmann.

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