CHAMPAIGN — Area farmers and grain elevator operators say they're pleasantly surprised by how high soybean yields are this fall, given a late-summer dry spell.
"Soybeans are a huge surprise," said Roger Miller, chief executive officer of Champaign-based Premier Cooperative. "We went through August and most of September without any significant rainfall. I was always told soybeans needed August rain. But we have really good yields this year."
Soybean yields in Premier's territory, which covers much of Champaign County and parts of Vermilion, Ford and Piatt counties, have typically been in the mid-50 to mid-60 bushels per acre this fall.
"Surprisingly, the quality is good," Miller said. "The bean size is not as big I've seen, but the test weight is really good — a pound to a pound and a half higher than normal, which is helping the yield."
In Vermilion County, farmers are witnessing similar results.
"Everyone is pleasantly surprised with how the early beans are turning out, given the dry weather in August," said Tom Fricke, director of information for the Vermilion County Farm Bureau.
"It's not a bin-buster by any means, but it's what most would characterize as an average yield," he said.
Farmers already anticipated a good corn crop, and Miller said "corn is slightly better than what we expected. The quality is really good. We don't have any aflatoxin issues this year."
At Topflight Grain Cooperative in Monticello, grain merchandising manager Derrick Bruhn said he thinks the September crop-tour estimate of a 178-bushel-per-acre average for corn may prove "light."
"We think we'll end up with a 183-bushel average in the area for corn," he said.
Despite a wet spring and a dry end to summer, the size of the corn and soybean crops will stack up well compared with previous years, Miller said.
"If our projections are right, we'll have the second-largest volume of soybeans that Premier has handled, and likewise for corn," he said.
Only the 2009 crop was larger for corn, and only the 2010 crop was larger for soybeans, he added.
Although most farmers in this area normally start harvesting in mid-September, it was closer to early October when farmers got out in the fields this year, said Brad Uken, manager of the Champaign County Farm Bureau.
Now, according to area elevators, East Central Illinois farmers are approaching the halfway mark for harvest.
"Right now we're at 45 percent of our projection on corn and 44 percent of our projection on soybeans," Miller said Thursday.
In Vermilion County, Fricke estimated that 35 percent to 45 percent of the harvest is complete. Farmers in the northern part of the county were generally able to start harvesting earlier than those in the south because rains delayed planting in the south.
Soybean harvest swung into full drive this past week, with Premier taking in 9 percent of its projected soybean harvest for the season on Wednesday alone.
After harvesting corn early in the season, "everyone this week switched over to beans," Bruhn said Thursday. "Bean harvest is in full effect and will be until we see a rain."
Bruhn said this year's harvest is running about "two weeks behind normal."
This year's crops matured much later than last year's. Miller said that in 2012, Premier handled its first bushel of new-crop corn on Aug. 11; this year, the first bushel came in Sept. 9.
"I would expect the end of harvest to come sometime in the first two weeks of November, with soybeans done before corn," he said.
Work at the elevators has been moving, he added.
"The harvest seems to be coming on steadily. We haven't had the really big days we've had in years past," he said. "We haven't had any harvest delays at any locations at this point."
Weather is one of the reasons, as farmers are content to let nature help dry out their corn.
"With the (warm) temperatures and wind, corn moisture has been dropping every day, saving farmers drying expense," he said.
Markets for corn and soybeans have been stable the last week or so as a result of a dearth of crop information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stemming from the government shutdown.
Ordinarily, the department would have released a supply-and-demand report Friday that would have moved markets, Bruhn said. But without that report, prices have remained in a narrow range.