In the third week of October, about a million acres of soybeans were not harvested in Manitoba.
The situation was much worse in North Dakota, where 4.5 to five million acres were still in the field.
If the weather is favourable and there’s a best-case scenario over the next few weeks, growers should be able to harvest most of the crop.
If not, many, many acres will remain in fields over the winter.
“I think it is nearly possible (that) everything is going to be harvested…. We’re going to leave beans in the field this year,” said Hans Kandel, North Dakota State University extension agronomist.
Farmers in Manitoba and North Dakota are struggling to get onto their fields to harvest soybeans, or any crop right now, thanks to record rain in September and a massive snowstorm before Thanksgiving.
The rain and 25 to 50 centimetres of snow across much of region turned agricultural land into a sopping mess of snow, slush and mud.
As of Oct. 17, Kandel estimated that 80 percent of North Dakota’s soybean crop was not harvested.
Dennis Lange, pulse crop specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, had a similar guess for Manitoba. Only 20 to 30 percent of the province’s 1.4 million acres of soybeans were in the bin.
The region around Fargo, N.D., is the heart of soybean production in the state. It received more rain than snow during the Oct. 11-12 storm, but the land is a mess.
“The area is just saturated…. I don’t see (how) we can get in the fields anytime soon,” Kandel said. “The Red River, coming your way, is in major flood stage.”
North of the border, it’s almost impossible to get equipment onto agricultural land.
“I’ve seen a couple of guys trying to (combine) corn,” Lange said. “Tracks are becoming a necessity for some of those guys.”
Lange and Kandel both said that soybean producers need a hard frost for several days so the ground can support combines.
But the frost must happen without snow.
“When you start talking frost, snow and frost tend to go together,” Kandel said. “Combining soybeans with snow, it doesn’t work.”
The other best-case scenario is 10 to 15 days of warm, dry weather. However, that’s a rarity in the northern Plains during late October and early November.
Growers might be tempted to leave soybeans and harvest the crop in the spring. That isn’t a great option for a number of reasons.
“If you let them stand throughout the winter, that just makes them more prone to lodging. And, basically, it just wrecks your soybean crop,” said Cassandra Tkachuk, crop production specialist with the Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers Association.
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Another problem is wetting and drying of the pods.
After multiple wet and dry cycles, the pods are much more likely to shatter.
However, there have been cases where soybeans survived a Manitoba winter and produced a decent crop in the spring.
“Two or three years ago, in the Dauphin area, there were quite a few acres that stayed out all winter…. I was expecting there would be nothing left of it,” Lange said.
“Surprisingly, the quality in spring was still making No. 2 grade.”
It’s uncertain how many acres of soybeans will be harvested in Manitoba, but it’s very likely that yields will be below average.
Before the Thanksgiving snowstorm, Lange was expecting a provincial average yield of 30 bushels per acre. That’s below provincial yields in recent years of 35 to 40 bu. per acre.
In the aftermath of the storm, Lange said average yields will likely be 25 to 30 bu. per acre.