SD corn farmers might have biggest yields in history

Rebekah Tuchscherer

In his 30 years of farming, Lannie Mielke’s never seen so much corn.

A 50-year-old grain and beef farmer who lives between Mellette and Conde, Mielke started his corn harvest early this week and has averaged more than 200 bushels per acre so far.

And he’s not the only one with big yields.

South Dakota farmers are expected to reach an average of 165 bushels per acre - a record high, according to the October crop production report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. State corn production is projected to reach 752 million bushels, a 35% increase from last year.

Soybean and sunflower production are also on the rise, increasing 61% and 33% from 2019, respectively, according to the report. The soybean yield is forecast to reach 48 bushels per acre, up 5.5% from last year.

“Harvest has been a dream,” Mielke said. “The weather’s been great - you really couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Thanks to an early and dry planting season in eastern South Dakota free of the flooding that slowed 2019 production, most farmers were able to get their corn crop planted, said Jonathan Kleinjan, a South Dakota State University Extension agronomist. A continuing combination of timely rains and a buildup of moisture in the subsoil, the layer where most of a corn plant’s roots are, carried growth through to an early harvest.

“It’s definitely better,” Lanny Kirsch, CEO of Watertown’s and Wallace’s Agwrx Cooperative, said of this year’s harvest compared to 2018 and 2019. “With the yields we’ve gotten this year, we’re more in line with trend line yields.”

In mid-October of 2019, about 48% of corn was mature and 4% was harvested, according to the USDA Oct. 13 crop progress report. This year, 95% of corn is mature and 39% is harvested.

Almost all soybeans in the state have been harvested, with only 18% left in the field, according to the Oct. 13 report. In 2019, 89% of soybeans still had yet to be harvested.

However, not all farmers were able to get their corn planted, Kleinjan said. In northeastern parts of the state near Groton and the James River Valley, spring weather brought more moisture, making it difficult, if not impossible, for some farmers to plant corn.

Kleinjan said that if things continue as they have been going, he expects corn harvest to wrap up before November.

J.T Fey of The Watertown Public Opinion contributed to this report.

A combine finishes a round while combining rows of corn Monday near Watertown. Average yields are projected to be the highest they’ve ever been in South Dakota at 165 bushels per acre, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.
Gary Cotten of Watertown operates a grain semi-truck while Cale Steige, a South Dakota State University student, unloads grain Monday near Watertown.