Drastic differences in dryland and irrigated crop yields are showing up in Nebraska after a dry summer.
Doug Saathoff, a corn, soybean, and milo farmer in Trumbull, Nebraska, says the growing season started off with setting up irrigation pivots earlier than usual. He says that doesn’t typically happen until June, but this year he had to get irrigation started right after planting wrapped up.
Saathoff started harvesting his dryland corn the week of Sept. 18. He says dryland corn yields were really bad, but that was to be expected as a result of another dry summer in Nebraska. “We’ve been dry for a couple of years now,” Saathoff notes.
The latest drought monitor map shows that Nebraska continues to see persistent drought conditions. Almost 5% of the state is in D4 exceptional drought, while 9% is in D3 extreme drought. Just over 13% of Nebraska is in D2 severe drought. D1 moderate drought covers 17%of the state, with 20% in abnormally dry conditions. The remaining 35% of Nebraska is drought free, a slight improvement from just 11% three months ago.
“This is probably the driest I’ve experienced,” says Saathoff, who’s been officially involved in the farm since 1996. While he says that 2012 was a dry year, their fields started off with decent subsoil moisture versus this year when they didn’t have the subsoil moisture at the beginning of the growing season.
“It started last year with no snow over the winter,” Saathoff says. “It’s kinda been worse every month we go forward.”
USDA’s Crop Progress report for Nebraska for the week ending Sept. 24 shows that subsoil moisture supplies are predominantly short/very short. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 29% very short, 35% short, 34% adequate, and 2% surplus. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 21% very short, 29% short, 48% adequate, and 2% surplus.
As a result, Saathoff says yields on his irrigated soybeans are down 10 to 15% from normal. “We just couldn’t keep up with irrigation this summer with how hot and dry it was,” Saathoff notes.
Improved genetics have definitely helped keep yields up, Saathoff says, but hot and dry weather that hit his crops at critical growth stages negatively impacted yields.
Looking towards next year, Saathoff says he’ll make some minor changes to his management practices. Saathoff says he already doesn’t do much tillage, but notes next year he might not till at all in order to minimize disturbing the soil to save moisture.
He may also consider planting more milo next year because of how little irrigation it needs to survive.
Blake Johnson, a corn and soybean farmer in Holdrege, Nebraska, says that 90% of his crops are irrigated, and, so far, his irrigated crop yields are looking relatively good. Johnson says he did harvest some irrigated corn that had been damaged by storms, so its yields weren’t great, but yields from his undamaged corn are shaping up to be much better.
When it comes to his dryland crop yields, Johnson says yields so far have been drastically different when comparing crops that were planted earlier in the season compared to later. Early planted dryland corn yields have been 120 bushels/acre. Dryland corn that was planted later has only seen yields between 10 to 20 bushels/acre so far.
Johnson says that drought conditions were slightly better on his operation this year compared to last, although he notes, “We had to pump a little more irrigation water than average.”
Next year, Johnson says, because of improvements in technology, he plans to plant more soybeans than he has in the past.