OWATONNA — Despite a wetter-than-usual September and a cold, cloudy and rainy beginning to October, the harvest for corn and soybeans in the region and throughout the state is significantly ahead of last year’s crop and, in fact, better than average, according to figures released Tuesday by the United States Department of Agriculture.
“There were several reports of the wet weather hindering harvest activity,” the USDA report said of the week ending on Sunday.
Still, the USDA reported that corn was 96 percent mature, 13 days ahead of the five-year average. Harvest of corn for grain stood at 15 percent complete, more than two weeks ahead of last year and five days ahead of average. Corn for silage harvest was 96 percent complete, 10 days ahead of average, the USDA reported.
At the same time, the Ag Department reported that last week had just 2.9 days “suitable for fieldwork,” a decline from 3.8 days the previous week. And with the rainy conditions across the state, including a flash flood watch throughout much of southern Minnesota, this week doesn’t appear to be getting off to a better start.
“Any particular year has its challenges,” said Daniel Lofthus, Minnesota’s state statistician for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service before Tuesday’s release of the numbers.
Still, parts of September made up for otherwise wet days.
“This year, the month of September had some good, sunny days that pushed the corn crop ahead,” said Lofthus.
But according to figures from the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, September in Steele County was wetter — much wetter — than usual.
“It’s been wet this fall,” said Eric Ahasic, a meteorologist with the weather service. “It’s been a particularly wet stretch the last few days.”
There were a few days in the summer that were wet, which was made up for in July, which was warmer and drier. Come the end of August and the end of meteorological summer — the months of June, July and August — things had leveled out, Ahasic said.
“By Sept. 1, we were right on normal,” he said.
Then came some very wet days in September, including Sept. 5 when 3.25 inches of rain fell on Owatonna, Ahasic said.
“And it’s gone up since then,” he said.
By Tuesday morning, Owatonna had recorded “just a shade under 10 inches” of rainfall from Sept. 1 through that time, Ahasic said, at 9.93 inches. And with the rain that was forecast for the rest of the day and into Wednesday, the total should be over 10 and approaching 11 inches, he said.
In fact, Ahasic said that the amount of rain that Steele County has received since Sept. 1 and the beginning of meteorological autumn has been twice to 2½ times greater than normal.
“Usually, things dry out at this time of year,” he said.
Ahasic attributes the wetter-than-normal weather to what he calls a “wavy pattern” of winds in the jet stream over the past month or two.
“When it gets wavy, it pulls warmer up up from the equator and it pulls colder air down from the poles,” he said.
The warmer air from the south also pulls water from the Gulf of Mexico, Ahasic said. The combination results in the sort of weather patterns that the region and the state have seen as of late. And it can be a mixed bag. The current weather pattern — one that will continue until at least Wednesday noon — is likely to drop about two to three inches of rain in Wisconsin — moisture up from the Gulf — while it may bring up to six inches of snow in northwestern Minnesota — snow caused by what Ahasic called “that cold, polar air.”
“October and November are usually tame,” said Ahasic. “It’s rare to see that much rain or that much snow at this time of year.”
Still, he predicts that we’re not done seeing what we have been seeing.
“What we’ve seen will continue, though not as much rain,” he said. “That cloudy, cold, gray — that will stay with us.”