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North Dakota, Minnesota farmers seeing varied wheat yields, higher prices

Most farmers in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota have completed their harvests or expected to complete them by the end of the week, barring rain delays.

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Drayton farmer Tyler Pilon harvests a field of spring wheat southwest of Drayton Thursday.The yeild was good on the field after many years of excess moisture. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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DRAYTON, N.D. — Dust billowed behind combines harvesting wheat along the I-29 corridor this week as farmers worked to wrap up the 2021 harvest.

Early planting last spring and an extremely dry summer with hot temperatures that pushed the small grains crop s, including wheat, to mature quickly has resulted in one of the earliest harvests in recent years. Most small-grains farmers in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota have completed their harvests, or expected to by the end of the week, barring rain delays.

Rain delays during harvest have been spotty. For example, rains fell Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 9 and 10, east and west of Grand Forks , delaying harvest for a few days, while some fields in the northern Red River Valley had little, if any, rain.

On Thursday, Aug. 12, Tyler Pilon was finishing combining his second-to-last hard, red spring wheat field. Pilon, who farms southwest of Drayton, N.D., near the border between Walsh and Pembina counties, has had only 2.5 inches of rain on his farm this season.

Pilon was surprised that, given the lack of moisture, he was harvesting a bumper crop of wheat, estimating his yields in one field at 80 bushels per acre.

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''This is the driest year I’ve ever seen,” said Pilon, who has farmed since 2013.

The hard, red spring wheat yield in North Dakota is expected to average 30 bushels per acre this year, about 40% lower than last year’s average yield of 49 bushels per acre, the National Agricultural Statistics Service said. Total wheat production is estimated at 173 million bushels, which is 37% lower than last year, the agency said.

The NASS estimate of an average of 30 bushels per acre takes into account the entire state's production, said Frayne Olson, NDSU Extension agricultural economist.

''If I can say one thing about the yields, it's variability. It’s very region specific,” he said. ''It’s very patchy, it's very spotty. It’s been all over the board."

Yields in fields on the same farm vary greatly this year.

“We might have a field that went 80 and we might have a field that went 20,” he said.

Pilon’s wheat field benefited from excess moisture in several previous growing seasons.

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Milly Martinez combines wheat on Tyler Pilon's farm south of Drayton Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Besides a production shortage, millers and other companies, such as pasta makers, are concerned about the quality of the 2021 crop. The crop appears to have exceptionally high protein content, which causes concern because it can cause issues in production of their products.

''There are limits," Olson said. “We usually think high protein is better, but you can get too high, and that could be a problem this year.”

Pilon was uncertain about the quality of the wheat he was harvesting Thursday because he hadn’t yet taken a sample to the elevator. He’s clearly pleased about the high prices the crop is fetching.

Hard, red spring wheat cash and futures prices are about $9 per bushel. Spring wheat prices in 2020 averaged $5.15 per acre, National Agricultural Statistics Service said.

Prices have risen this year because of an anticipated drought-induced decline in production in the major wheat states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota, and in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The price increase, however, is tempered for some farmers by the decrease in bushels. Though farmers with drastically reduced yields have federal crop insurance that will help them make up some of the disparity, it won’t make up for the reduction in their yields.

Meanwhile, some farmers, like Pilon, forward contracted his grain, locking in a price that is lower than the now-cash price of $9 a bushel.

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Still, he expects to make a profit on this year’s wheat crop.

''There’s definitely a chance this year to come out pretty good,” he said.

Related Topics: AGRICULTUREWHEATDROUGHT
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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