OCFB’s Kern: Farmers ‘pleasantly surprised’ so far with harvest yields following drought

Ogle County farmers have wrapped up their 2023 bean harvest and are between halfway and fully done with corn, Ogle County Farm Bureau Manager Ron Kern said Oct. 31.

‘I think we're going to amazingly have an average yield’

OGLE COUNTY — Ogle County farmers have wrapped up their 2023 bean harvest and are between halfway and fully done with corn, Ogle County Farm Bureau Manager Ron Kern said Oct. 31.

Farmers saw rain during the month of October following a drought over the summer that made them concerned for the state of their crops. Those rains haven’t hampered harvest much, Kern said.

“Amazingly we couldn’t buy rain to save our souls all summer and of course now we get to harvest season and we can’t seem to shut it off,” Kern said. “We have had a wet October. That's good and bad. With as dry as we were, we’ll need some moisture headed into next spring. Because it's been so dry, most of the rain we've gotten has gone into the ground pretty quickly. It hasn't really caused too many issues with being able to carry the equipment in the fields. Other than basically the days that it's rained, for the most part we could get back out into the field on days that it wasn't raining. I think that the rain probably hasn't slowed us down as much as some folks may think.”

Kern said the drought has caused “strange” results with variable yields in different parts of the same fields. 

“I would talk to someone who had their yield monitor on beans saying it was 84 bushels an acre in one spot in the field and it was 24 bushels an acre in the next spot,” Kern said. “But amazingly, when it was all said and done, they were right about at average and where they should have been for a yield.”

The same kinds of results have been seen in corn yields so far, Kern said, and he believes early-planted corn is going to perform better than late-planted corn this year. After talking with farmers following the drought year, he believes Ogle County will “amazingly have an average yield.”

“Don't get me wrong, there are going to be some places where that isn't the case, but other places may actually be a little better than average,” Kern said. “You have to remember with us being dry this summer, there were some spotty rains here and there that some got and others didn't. I think most of the farmers I talk to are kind of pleasantly surprised. You do this for a living because you grow a crop. And of course you want to grow the best crop you can. Of course you're always at the mercy of the weather. I think most of the farmers would tell you they're probably happy with it, considering the way the summer went.”

During most years, farmers have the goal of wrapping up harvest by Thanksgiving before snow and frozen soil in December. Kern said that with drier weather and a few sunny days and normal temperatures, harvest is on pace to be finished in Ogle County by Thanksgiving.

When crops have higher-than-ideal moisture levels, farmers dry them down with gas-powered dryers, which can be costly for them to run during harvest. Kern said not much dryer use was seen this year with beans, but he has seen them being used for corn to some extent.  

“A lot of the guys I talked to weren't really able to get into the fields until that corn was down into the low 20s on moisture percentage or even high 10s,” Kern said. “I don't think they're having to dry those bushels as much before they put them away.”

As farmers have gotten crops pulled out of fields, Kern said he’s already started to see tractors and chisel plows in fields getting fall tillage work done to prepare for the spring. He believes that if weather stays “relatively warm” for a few weeks before the ground freezes, farmers will be able to get whatever fall tillage they desire done.

With harvest in its closing week, Kern has started to look at forecasts for the winter months and how it will impact Ogle County farmers in the spring. 

“From what I've seen, they say we're supposed to be, because of El Nino, warmer than normal and precipitation is supposed to be around normal,” Kern said. “This is what the experts are saying. Of course, an old friend told me once, 'If a weatherman ever gets to heaven, we all got a chance.' That's what I'm hearing and that's what they're saying. I'm not a meteorologist, so I can't say that they'll be wrong. That normal precipitation would be beneficial. We've had a wet October, but we're still behind for the year. We're going to need at least normal precipitation here in the winter, whether that's in the form of snow or rain, to kind of get caught back up for next spring.”