After a delayed planting season and wet beginning to harvest, some Washington County farmers may have higher than expected crop yields while others may have lower, said Nathan Mueller, an Extension agronomist in Dodge and Washington counties .
"There will be some variability," he said.
Corn and soybean planting season, which usually ends by the first weeks of May, was delayed to late May and the beginning of June for area farmers. Many farmers also had portions of their fields left unplanted, resulting in filings for prevented planting insurance with the USDA's Farm Service Agency and the substitute planting of cover or forage crops.
Mueller said a drier, sunnier end of summer provided suitable work days for farmers who were able to plant crops. June and July, however, saw about 3.5 fewer inches of rain than normal, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Valley, which cut down on needed precipitation for crop growth, Mueller said.
The wet planting, drier than normal mid-summer and suitable working end of summer are now being followed by a wet start to harvest season. Harvest season usually begins near the end of September and beginning of October, though this year is expected to run longer due to a late planting season.
According to the NWS, nearly 6 inches of rain fell at Omaha Eppley Airfield in September, with nearly 5.5 inches falling during the last 10 days of the month. September's normal rainfall amount is 2.68 inches. More than 2 inches of rain fell during the first three days of October. The normal amount of rainfall for those three days is a quarter of an inch.
This is the third year in a row that above-average rain has fallen on the county during the start of harvest. When fields are saturated, corn stalks can rot and soybeans are at risk for mold. In addition, Mueller said soil compaction, such as from combines and other machinery going through saturated fields, can impact field and crop quality next year.
"One of the big concerns for this time of year — it's been wet in 2017, 2018 and 2019," he said. "I would not expect an early end to harvest."
Mike Kahnk, who farms southwest of Kennard, said he won't begin harvesting until mid-October. Though his farm, situated within hills that help with runoff, wasn't affected by flooding, he did experience saturated fields after a consistently rainy spring.
"I planted some beans around April 28, then I got rained out and planted some corn from May 5 all the way to May 16," he said. "Then a few days after that I switched back to soybeans. It was all the way to June before I got finished."
He said he couldn't say with precision what his yields will be, but his soybean yields could be down from last year and his corn yields could be about the same.
"I'd say things won't be too far below average in our area, but for some guys that were really affected by the spring flooding, then just last week, that's really going to be tough for them," he said. "My area, the way our hills lay, everything drains off pretty well with our terraces."
Mueller said farmers could expect to harvest crops into November. But the late season isn't necessarily all negatives. Since many crops were planted later in the year, they weren't going to mature until later in the fall.
"There's no risk of a hard freeze here in October as far as the current forecasts show," Mueller said. "That is a positive for how this year's ended up."
A hard freeze usually hits the area around mid-October, Mueller said. On Friday, the NWS predicted lows above 40 degrees until Oct. 10 while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts average temperatures from Oct 12-25 will be above normal, possibly in the 50s.
Kahnk said he hopes warmer weather holds up.
"It was 90 on (Sept. 30) and then (Friday) I had to wear a jacket, so it just shows you how quickly it can change," he said. "Everybody is going to need a good October, November to be able to get harvest completed in a normal timeframe."
In addition to above-average rainfall, farmers in eastern Washington County are experiencing a resurgence in floodwaters from the Missouri River, Mueller said.
Some farmers in these areas, and possibly elsewhere in the county, might have been able to plant cover or forage crops like alfalfa once they were unable to plant corn or soybeans. But high river levels might put cover and forage crops at risk.
"That option may not be available anymore," he said.
Jeff Shaner, who farms southeast of Fort Calhoun, said high Missouri River levels severely impacted planting this year.
"The river level has been a huge impact on us from March all the way through until now," he said.
Shaner said he planted about three percent of acres this year. In August, he planted cover crops on about 25 percent of his farm land. While recent high river levels didn't impact the corn he planted, the cover crops were affected.
Shaner said his family is fortunate to have been able to diversify into the poultry business with their breeder barns connected to Costco's $400 million chicken processing plant in Fremont.
"It has been a very challenging year for our farming operation," he said. "As we look to next year and the amount of water still held in the Missouri River reservoirs, the likelihood of being impacted by high river seems pretty good."
Some farmers, depending on their field and working conditions in the coming weeks, could see variability in yields as harvest season continues into early and mid-November, Mueller said. He said more accurate yield counts would become available at that time.
"People will be surprised both good and bad," he said.