All Aboard Harvest | Brian: Shifting gears in South Dakota – Spring wheat harvest begins.
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Brian: Shifting gears in South Dakota – Spring wheat harvest begins.

Click the video below to enjoy the scenic sites of winter wheat harvest in central South Dakota. Enjoy!!!

Three weeks after arriving in Onida, South Dakota, we are finally shifting gears….moving from winter wheat to spring wheat. No doubt you have noticed this year’s very unusual weather, and harvest in South Dakota has been unusual because of…you guessed it, the weather.

We often anticipate a South Dakota harvest to be hot, dry, and windy with long hours and weeks of uninterrupted harvesting. This year is the opposite. Cool weather has been the norm, replacing triple-digit heat with highs in the 70s. Small showers and notable rain events are frequent. Every morning a heavy dew sets, soaking the wheat crop and making for a late harvest start time, usually after lunch. With a low of 48° one morning we actually turned on the trailer house furnace. WHAT? Is this summer harvest or fall harvest? The cool days have made for enjoyable living weather, but it has created another problem…spring wheat that refuses to ripen.


Once we started harvesting winter wheat (right side of photo) we saw first hand just how green the spring was (left side of photo). Our suspension from the very beginning was correct…slow ripening spring wheat has delayed it’s harvesting substantially.

We anticipated spring wheat could harvest later than normal, due to late-season snows delaying seeding. But no one expected weather where 90° would be the exception rather than the norm. Some farmers have spring wheat exclusively, meaning there are crews that have been sitting idle for a full 30 days waiting for ripe spring wheat. That is not financially favorable. We all enjoy a little downtime, but it has been excessive.

Thankfully we have been able to move from winter to spring wheat with only a few days in between, but many of our fields in other areas of the county have problematic green heads scattered throughout. Part of the issue is the hail damage many fields received, causing injured plants to “pause” ripening while they attempted to regrow foliage enough to finish seed development. These late-ripening plants often are referred to as “sucker heads,” and they are causing real heartache. Fields are filled with ripe 13% moisture wheat and then scattered throughout are 20% moisture sucker heads. This makes it impossible to achieve the 14% moisture level considered safe for long-term storage.


Harvesting a sample of the spring wheat confirms what we expected all along…. Green plump berries from “sucker heads” are mixed in with dry kernels, leading to moisture levels still too high for safe long-term storage to avoid spoiling. So we sit and wait for warmer weather…

Thankfully the upcoming week finally sees a change in the weather, with 90° days appearing frequently. This is the weather needed to dry down these spring wheat fields quickly! Of course, the heat also introduces more chances of storms, so we will see how it plays out. Many farmers have begun spraying select spring wheat fields to kill the plants, artificially forcing dry down (an expensive but almost required alternative). Some fields may never be harvested dry with the volume of green sucker heads present without chemical application to kill the green wheat.


Here you can clearly see the green “sucker heads” mixed in with the dry wheat. There is an abnormally large number of “suckers” this year due to late seeding and hail damage.

At any rate, spring wheat harvest is on the verge of finally beginning in earnest here in the Onida area. That’s good because we expect our North Dakota acres to be ready to go the second week of August. That’s right around the corner.  After all, the thought of moving to North Dakota makes us remember what comes afterward…moving HOME.  It’s a little early to entertain that thought, but the end is sooner than we think.  Suddenly I feel a little sad.

All Aboard Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and John Deere. Brian can be reached at

  • Tom Stegmeier
    Posted at 19:25h, 05 August

    Fantastic pictures Brian , You, Tracy and Laura & Janel have such an eye for bringing out the beauty of Harvest !! When I farmed we also run into green heads, we weren’t in a hail area ,is was usually rain at the wrong time then a hard frost. so any immature heads would stay green , Aeration fans in bins ,also Grain Dryers were a must ,If the wheat was 20% or less it was going through the combine..

    • Brian Jones
      Posted at 00:52h, 06 August

      Glad you are enjoying the pictures, Tom. It’s amazing what great photos you can take with a cellphone. There certainly have been some fantastic photos shared on AAWH this year, and we hope you enjoy the beauty of harvest as much as we enjoy capturing it and sharing it.

  • Kyle Bennett
    Posted at 19:04h, 07 August

    Other than planting dates, is there other differences between spring and winter wheat?

    • Brian Jones
      Posted at 22:43h, 10 August

      The main difference between winter and spring wheat is it’s milling properties for food preparation. Spring wheat normally has a much higher protein content, and often an additional premium per bushel can be paid for the higher protein levels (while not common, it can approach $1/bu more over identical winter wheat). Spring wheat straw is not as robust and doesn’t grow as tall, and the yield is generally lower than winter wheat (this widely varies based on weather, but often 20 bushels/acre less is common). Still, the ability to change seeding timing means a mix of spring wheat and winter wheat fits many producer’s crop rotations. I find it interesting that often spring wheat is harvesting in the same month winter wheat begins seeding… Not many crops can be harvested and then re-seeded in such a short period of time like winter wheat. Thanks for the great question, I’m sure others had it as well!

  • nancy eberts
    Posted at 22:05h, 10 August

    Wonderful pictures–( tell the story)-our SD harvest was longer than usual as well due to the cool conditions….