With a big assist from Mother Nature, Minnesota farmers are poised to set records for corn and soybean harvests for the second straight year.
U. S. Department of Agriculture forecasts released this week peg Minnesota corn production at 1.52 billion bushels, breaking the previous record of 1.43 billion bushels set in 2015. Based on conditions Nov. 1, the corn yield is expected to average 190 bushels per acre, an increase of two bushels per acre from last year, also a record.
Soybean production is expected to be 4 percent above last year's record crop, with average yields at 52 bushels per acre, also two bushels above 2015.
University of Minnesota Extension corn agronomist Jeff Coulter said the reason for the high yields is good farm management by producers and an exceptional growing season.
"A lot of it comes down to the weather," he said. "We've had fairly favorable amounts and distribution of rainfall throughout the entire growing season."
Some parts of southwestern Minnesota received too much rain in the spring, and the Waseca area received too much in the fall, but Coulter said most farmers across the state had adequate but not excessive rain when they needed it. Producers were also able to take advantage of a mild spring to plant crops early.
"The other thing is that temperatures were favorable," Coulter said. "It wasn't excessively hot and that can put stress on crops."
However, bountiful crops do not necessarily mean high profits for producers. Large stockpiles of grain and other such factors as a strong dollar and low oil prices have kept corn and soybean prices flat for the past couple of years — in many cases at or below the cost of production.
In a report earlier this year, the University of Minnesota's Center for Farm Financial Management reported that despite record crop yields in 2015, net income for Minnesota farms continued to decline that year to the lowest point in 20 years in inflation-adjusted dollars. The study analyzed data from nearly 2,200 crop and livestock farms included in a database representing a broad cross-section of Minnesota production agriculture.
Of those, crop farmers saw slightly higher earnings because of the record yields in 2015, the report said, but incomes remained low by historical standards.
Extension educator Dave Nicolai said that bin-busting corn and soybean harvests may give farmers some relief, since many producers have been struggling to balance the costs of land rent, seeds, fertilizer, machinery and other expenses with the income they receive from lackluster commodity prices.
"Extra bushels per acre can help to take the edge off some of the pressures, but you can't go back to cruise control and not consider everything else that's going on when you're driving down the road," Nicolai said. "It's a helpful factor but it's not going to replace the need for good management going forward."
Another positive development has been an extended and relatively dry harvest season, Nicolai said. That doesn't increase yields, but it allows grain to dry longer in the field and reduce or eliminate drying costs before storage.
"That in itself helps the producer's bottom line," he said.
The USDA estimates will be updated in a summary report to be released in mid-January.