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Some producers 'pleasantly surprised' by small grain yields

Due to the drought that has plagued the region, many producers braced themselves for devastating yields. But some found themselves pleasantly surprised by their small grain yields.

According to Clair Keene, a North Dakota State University Extension agronomist and assistant professor, there is a stark difference between "good" yields in eastern and western North Dakota. Photo taken in July 2021, in Webster, N.D. Emily Beal / Agweek

As some producers finish up their small grains harvest, many are pleasantly surprised with the yield that their acres put out this season, despite the drought.

However, according to Clair Keene, a North Dakota State University Extension agronomist and assistant professor, a "pleasant surprise" has a very different meaning depending on if a producer lives in eastern or western North Dakota.

For the western part of the state, the drought started rearing its ugly horns almost an entire year before it made its presence known in eastern North Dakota, so the two regions have stark differences in terms of "good" yields.

“In the east, they had the benefit of having more soil moisture than the west going into the winter. In some areas in the west, our drought started last summer," Keene said. "It really started in June of 2020, whereas in the eastern part of the state their drought didn't start until May or June of 2021.”

For eastern North Dakota, the winter wheat variety trials had exceptional yields according to Keene, with many plots coming in at over 100 bushels per acre.


“That really surprised me,” she said.

However, in the western part of the state, some producers are seeing 30 to 35 bushels per acre in spring wheat. Not above average in terms of yield, but a better performance than expected given the weather conditions.

The smoke that has been heavily present in the sky throughout the region this summer also offered a form of protection to the crops, acting as an umbrella to the sun’s aggressive rays.

“We had multiple days above 100 degrees when wheat was flowering. But, that is when our lovely smoke from the wildfires started moving in. So when it was supposed to be 105 degrees, it only got up to maybe 90. I think that saved a lot of crops, both in the east and the west,” Keene said.

Modern varieties have increased yield potential for unfavorable weather conditions, such as drought. In addition to modern varieties, no till or minimal till techniques played a large role in increased yields. By implementing no-till or minimal till into their operation, producers left the moisture within the soil, which ultimately helped benefit their planted acres, rather than tilling the soil and drying it out.

“Folks that have been doing conservation or no-till to preserve soil moisture, I think, are really seeing the benefit of that,” Keene said.

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