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Published October 22, 2013, 09:37 AM

Frost-free September means higher yields, more money for farmers

The region’s frost-free September, which gave late-planted crops more time to develop, boosted yields and farmers’ gross incomes, area ag officials say.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service

The region’s frost-free September, which gave late-planted crops more time to develop, boosted yields and farmers’ gross incomes, area ag officials say.

“It was huge,” says Jason Mewes, a Colgate, N.D., farmer and president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association.

Avoiding a September frost always improves yields and profitability by giving area crops more time to reach maturity. But heavy spring rains this year, especially in northern North Dakota, forced many fields to be planted two to three weeks later than normal. So, an early frost this year would have done even more damage to crops than usual.

Corn and soybeans benefitted most from avoiding frost. The two and wheat are the region’s three major crops. Corn and soybeans, typically planted and harvested later than wheat, are at greater risk from early frost.

The frost-free September meant an additional $170 million to North Dakota soybean growers and another $278 million to state corn growers, according to projections from North Dakota State University Extension Service experts.

An early September frost would have reduced overall corn yields in the state by 15 percent, estimates Joel Ransom, an NDSU Extension Service agronomist who works with small grains and corn.

Some late-planted corn could have suffered as much as a 40 percent yield loss, he says.

A 15 percent statewide loss would have reduced the corn harvest by about 18 bushels an acre. Assuming an average price of $3.90 per bushel, corn farmers on average would have lost $70.20 per acre, estimates Andy Swenson, an NDSU Extension Service farm economist.

That would have caused a statewide loss of $273.8 million, assuming 3.6 million acres of corn are harvested this year, he says.

Corn prices have tumbled this year, so much of the projected loss would have been covered by federal crop insurance, he notes.

Swenson also estimates that the frost-free September could reduce the cost of drying corn in the state by about $72 million.

For his projection that the frost-free September meant an extra $170 million for soybean farmers in the state, Swenson uses these assumptions:

• 4.36 million harvested soybean acres.

• An average yield of 32 bushels per acre.

• A potential loss of 10 percent, or 3.2 bushels per acre.

• An average price of $12.70 per bushel.

Soybean prices, unlike corn prices, have remained relatively strong. So federal crop insurance would have covered only a small portion of soybean losses caused by an early frost, Swenson says.

Farmers who raise a number of other crops, including dry beans, sugar beets, potatoes, sunflowers and canola, have told Agweek that the frost-free September boosted their yields.

Wheat, typically harvested before September frost becomes an issue, also benefitted from the lack of frost this year. Some wheat fields were planted so late in northern North Dakota that they needed catch-up time, Ransom says.

Boon for Walsh County

An early frost in Walsh County, in northeast North Dakota, would have been “hugely tragic,” says Brad Brummond, extension agent.

Some fields in his county were so wet this spring that they weren’t planted until the end of June, he says.

Those late-planted crops “never would have made it in a normal summer,” he says.

Normally, killing frost strikes central Walsh County by Sept. 17. This year, the area still hadn’t received a widespread killing frost by early October, he says.

Brummond estimates that an early-September killing frost would have reduced corn yields in his county by 25 percent.

Protecting APH

The lack of a September freeze helped farmers in another way, too. It protected their actual production history, or APH, for federal crop insurance.

APH establishes an average yield for the insured crop based on the grower’s yields in previous years. The APH yield, in turn, helps determine how much insurance money a producer receives when weather hurts his crops.

Though it’s impossible to put a dollar figure on the value of maintaining APH, ag economists and commodity group leaders agree that it’s important.

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