KEMPTON, N.D. — The March weather has been ideal for Kyle Funseth to get spring work done.
Harvesting, that is.
“It’s been as good a spring as we can ask for, for getting the crop combined,” Funseth said last week as he steered his 9770 John Deere combine through the last 40 acres of corn that he would be harvesting this month.
Funseth is one of hundreds of farmers across North Dakota and northwest Minnesota who left corn in the field last fall because fields were too muddy to support harvesting equipment. In North Dakota, more than half of the 3.7 million acres of corn that farmers planted in 2019 was unharvested at the end of the year. Hundreds of thousands of acres in northwest Minnesota also were unharvested.
Some farmers chipped away at harvesting the corn during the winter, ramping up during the past month. By the end of February, 61% of the corn in North Dakota had been harvested, the National Agricultural Statistics Service said. The number of harvested acres likely will grow greatly this month as many farmers hit their fields to combine before the ground thaws.
Funseth and his wife, Kathryn, raise corn, soybeans, edible beans and wheat on land they farm five miles north and 10 south of Northwood, N.D.
Last week the field Funseth was harvesting was one of those north of Northwood, near the tiny village of Kempton, 35 miles west of Grand Forks.
“I thought last year was bad. This year made last year look easy,” Funseth said. Funseth then quickly clarified that 2018 was “last year and 2019 is still “this year.”
It’s not surprising that Funseth and other farmers still are referring to the 2019 crop as “this year’s” because it has consumed their time and energy for much of the past 10 months.
Funseth planted 670 acres of corn in May 2019, cultivated it throughout the summer and watched heavy rains and snow turn fields too sodden to harvest last fall. The wet fields were exacerbated by more rain and snow in the fall.
After battling muddy fields to harvest samples of corn that contained high moisture and low test weight, Funseth put the 2019 harvest on hold until 2020..
“We basically began in March,” Funseth said last week.
Funseth is gratified that waiting to harvest the corn turned out to be the right decision. His crop’s test weight increased a few points to an average of 53 bushels per acre, and the moisture level dropped by a few percentage points to 17%.
The increase in test weight and decrease in moisture content results in lower discounts at the elevator this spring, Funseth said, noting that the discounts would have been as much as 80 cents to 90 cents per bushel if he had harvested last fall.
“Now we’re looking at a 10 cents or less (per bushel) discount for drying and testweight,'' Funseth said.
Waiting until spring to harvest the corn, besides paying off in lower discounts, also yielded fewer ruts in his fields. Because the ground is frozen, his combine, tractor and grain cart aren’t sinking into the field, which means Funseth won’t have to smooth out or fill in holes before spring planting.
Still, spring combining, like waiting months to harvest the crop, requires a measure of patience. Funseth has to be careful to keep the combine header high enough out of the snow so the machine’s sieves don’t get plugged and to stop combining if there’s snow on the corn cobs.
Meanwhile, Funseth is short a member of the harvest crew because his wife is staying home with the couple’s three children, ages 3, 2 and 1. Kathryn Funseth’s mother usually takes care of the children during harvest while her daughter drives the grain cart, but is staying at home because of concerns about coronavirus.
Other than that, the virus isn't having much of an effect on the farm operation.
“Most of what we do, we’re stuck by ourselves in a cab or in a truck,’” he said.
As Funseth neared the end of harvest, he looked forward to starting anew, hopefully, in about a month.
“It’s nice to put a hard year behind you,” he said. “It’s hard to picture it being much worse."