VERMILLION, S.D. | For more than seven decades, Nels Sorensen has made his way around the fields south and west of Vermillion, not far from the Missouri River.
Autumn colors lit the sky on Wednesday morning, silver maples and cottonwoods along the Vermillion River playing off rich hues below, the oranges, yellows and browns of drying corn and soybean plants.
"I farm where my grandfather and father did," said Sorensen, pointing east toward son, Grant, who was pulling into the field. "And Grant is farming now."
Nels Sorensen, 73, began farming after high school. He's still at it, 55 years later. His grandfather farmed by using horses. His dad worked up to 2- and 4-row equipment. On Wendesday, Sorensen piloted a 670 John Deere with a 40-foot flex draper bean head, almost gliding through the field as soybeans moved right to left below him, the hulking machine spitting dust in all directions.
"This unit would cost around $350,000," Sorensen said.
One needs an abundance of corn and soybeans, of course, to pencil it out.
"This is the pay-day," Sorensen added, voice rising. "This is my favorite time of year, when you get out to enjoy the fruits of your labor."
Those "fruits" seemed to be faring well, despite a summer season marked by a prolonged stretch of drought in some areas.
"I'm very surprised with our yields," he said. "They're way better as we had dry weather following a wet spring."
The family's soybean crop, across the first 100 acres at least, averaged in the 65- to 70-bushel range. The 10-percent moisture reading on those beans also puzzled Sorensen a bit, as the region took in six inches of rain in the past two weeks.
Across their initial 200 acres of corn, the Sorensens have realized yields averaging 220 bushels per acre. Moisture content on corn came to 20 percent.
Some 125 miles away in Northwest Iowa, Iowa State University Extension Field Specialist Paul Kassel took some time for his own harvest. Kassel was pleased to see the weather this week, gray skies and rain finally way to sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and light winds.
"It's been a great change in the weather," said Kassel, who is based in Spencer. "A lot of farmers may finish soybeans here this week."
Yields around Iowa's Clay County (not to be confused with the South Dakota county), check in at the low- to mid-60s for soybeans. Kassel has heard guys talk of yields dipping from a phenomenal 2016 harvest to equal a 2015 effort, he termed as "exceptional."
"That dry weather in July maybe had an impact as some of the beans couldn't quite recover even with the August rains," he said.
Going from phenomenal to "only" exceptional may explain, in part, a recent 23-cent soybean rally. Corn, on the other hand, remains flat for Sorensen, right at the $3 per bushel, or off 60 percent from the price seen five years ago.
"There's quite a little corn around," Sorensen said. "It's amazing how corn has been bred-up to withstand the extremes."
Then again, he concluded, "You've got to have a lot of it at these prices."