Decent crop, poor pricing: North-central SD crops promising

North-central South Dakota spring wheat harvest looks good in the McLaughlin, S.D., area, and row crops show promise with timely rains. Meanwhile, crop pricing opportunities have been poor but could improve with the effect of a devastating Iowa windstorm.

Steve Pfeifer of McLaughlin, S.D., uses the blue combine “stripper” head to take heads off wheat straw and leave standing stubble to catch snow for next year’s corn crop. He said wheat, corn, soybean and sunflower crops are decent this year, but prices are not. Photo taken Aug. 12, 2020, at McLaughlin, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
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MCLAUGHLIN, S.D. — Crop pricing options are poor, but Steve Pfeifer indicates wheat and other crop production was looking favorable in parts of north-central South Dakota as he headed into the late part of his wheat harvest.

About a third of Pfeifer’s farm is in spring wheat. After a 2-inch rain on Aug. 11, 2020, he was harvesting on Aug. 12, and pleased that moisture content was settling in at 12.4%, which is within the 12% to 14% range needed to harvest without much drying. “This’ll work, this’ll work,” he said.

McLaughlin, S.D., farmer Steve Pfeifer (left) runs his combine with a stripper head through a 2-mile-long spring wheat field, as the grain cart gets into position. The crew is flanked by a sunflower field that looked good after being treated for bugs. Photo taken Aug. 12, 2020, at McLaughlin, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Spring wheat yield looked good heading into the final third of wheat harvest on Aug. 12, 2020. Pfeifer and his crew were combining a two-mile-long field of “Boost” wheat — a variety released by South Dakota in 2016. Pfeifer’s combines are equipped with “stripper” heads, which takes off the grain heads, leaving the standing straw stubble to catch snow for moisture. The practice is great for wildlife and the follow-crop of corn.

Wheat yields so far had averaged about 45 bushels per acre. He was seeing good test weight, and “OK” protein content. “It ain’t no ‘bumper’ deal, but ... , “ he said.


As for his other crops, sunflowers are “OK,” planted in wet conditions, and Pfeifer’s operation “just took the bugs out” the day before. “They’re full bloom — they look OK at the moment,” he said.

Steve Pfeifer, McLaughlin, S.D., says this year’s cropping looks positive in his area for wheat, and row crops, but farmers need a decent break on prices. Photo taken Aug. 12, 2020, at McLaughlin, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Much of the farm had little moisture in June, but some in July and 2 inches of rain on Aug. 11.

“At the moment we’re good, and we got it right at the moment we needed it,” he said.

Corn is looking good, “like everyone else in the United States,” Pfeifer said. “As producers, we always want more, but we’ll be satisfied with what we get.”

As Steve Pfeifer’s spring wheat harvest crew works on the hilltops, his sunflowers in full bloom had just been sprayed to prevent insect damage. Photo taken Aug. 12, 2020, at McLaughlin, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Hay crops were looking good, and Pfeifer also is in the cow-calf business.

Pfeifer, 63, is a board member for the Agtegra Cooperative, and realizes that someone — somewhere in the world — needs to have a cropping disadvantage in order for prices to move favorably.


After a 2-inch rain the night before, Steve Pfeifer of McLaughlin, S.D., was happy his wheat had dried enough to resume harvest on Aug. 12, 2020. Photo taken Aug. 12, 2020, at McLaughlin, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“The disadvantage for people in Iowa, with their great winds that they’ve had, might be an advantage for us, today, or in the future,” Pfeifer acknowledged, regarding the Aug. 10, 2020, hurricane-like windstorm that caused $4 billion in crop losses. But he was quick to emphasize, “Let’s hope they didn’t get hit too bad and we can all benefit from it at some point.”

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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