SD farmers plant fewest acres to winter wheat in 45 years

Stephen Lee Capital Journal
Farm Forum

South Dakota farmers planted only 850,000 acres of winter wheat this past fall for harvest in the summer of 2018, the fewest acres seeded in the state in 45 years. It’s down 6.6 percent from the 910,000 acres planted in September and October of 2016 and down 28 percent from the 1.18 million acres of winter wheat planted in the fall of 2015.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ag statistics office in Sioux Falls released the figures on Jan. 12.

Not since the fall of 1972 when the state’s farmers planted 793,000 acres of hard red winter wheat, before the crop became a real rival for the higher-protein hard red spring wheat in the 1980s, have so few fields been devoted to what is the most-planted wheat crop nationwide, according to USDA figures.

With winter wheat in South Dakota, planted acreages usually is quite a bit larger than what ends up being harvested the following July. Bad conditions during the winter and spring can cause farmers to dig up the winter wheat crop and plant something else with better prospects.

In the summer of 2017, for example, after months of drought, South Dakota farmers harvested only 520,000 acres, 57 percent of the acres planted.

For 15 years or more, South Dakota farmers have been increasing their acres of corn and soybeans, at the expense of wheat. One main driver of the change has been the huge increase in ethanol production, most of it made from corn, which has increased corn prices, and,ergo, acres.

In its annual crop production report released on Jan. 12, USDA said corn harvested for grain in South Dakota in 2017 totaled 737 million bushels, down 11 percent from 2016, from 5.08 million acres, down 1 percent from a year ago. Yields were pegged at 145 bushels an acre, down 16 bushels from 2016.

In perhaps one signal of the drought’s effect, the state’s farmers cut more corn down green for silage instead of letting it mature to produce corn kernels, or grain: they harvested 520,000 acres for silage, up 30 percent from 2016. But silage production was down 7 percent, yielding only 12.5 tons per acre, down from 17.5 tons in 2016.

South Dakota soybean farmers harvested a record 5.61 million acres in 2017, up 9 percent from 2016, and nearly equal to the 5.65 million acres planted, a testament to drought-hardiness of the crop, perhaps.

But the drought did hit the beans, too: the state’s soybean production totaled 241 million bushels, down 6 percent from 2016, with yieds down 6.5 bushels to 43 bushels per acre.

Alfalfa hay production, at 2.63 million tons, was down 23 percent from 2016, with average yields down 13 percent to 1.75 tons per acre, from 1.5 million acres, down 12 percent from 2016.

All other hay production was up 3 percent at 2.16 million tons from 1.6 million acres, up 14 percent from 2016 harvested acres. A main reason for that increase, no doubt, was that federal officials opened up CRP and other grass acres for haying because of the drought.

Sorghum harvested for grain was down 27 percent to 11.6 million bushels, from 170,000 acres, a decrease of 15 percent from 2016.

Oil sunflower production in the state in 2017 totaled 884 million pounds, down 8 percent; yields averaged 1,700 pounds per acre, down 12.4 percent, while harvested acres were up 5 percent at 520,000 acres.

Non-oil sunflowers, used for birdseed and baseball games, produced 155 million pounds in the state, up 61 percent from 2016. Yields at 2,100 pounds per acre were down only 50 pounds from 2016 on 74,000 acres harvested, an increase of of 28 percent.

Dry edible pea production hit a record high in 2017 in the state, witih 525,000 hundredweight, up 9 percent from 2016, while yields were a record low of 1,500 pounds per acre, down 100 pounds from 2016.