Harvest stalled

A Waseca County farmer harvested corn Sunday, hoping to beat the rain which dominated conditions this week. (Dana Melius/Waseca County News)

Combines were humming along Sunday, as farmers were trying to beat weather forecasts of more rain in the region.

The rains came. And farm fields already saturated with moisture were hit again.

Soybeans appear to be hit hardest, as acres that had been drying and moving closer to harvest now look darkened. Some regions of Minnesota, like the southwestern corner, have barely started the soybean harvest.

And while those farmers who’ve managed to harvest corn fields have been pleased with yields, there’s growing concern over how wet the crops still standing are. That will mean higher drying costs for farmers and possible storage issues.

The wet conditions and now cold temperatures that hovered near freezing early Thursday morning have added to an already difficult summer growing season and fall harvest. A depressed market. Tariffs. Mounting health care costs.

That’s affecting farmers’ well-being, according to several agricultural consultants. Northfield area crop consultant Jim Gill says they’re hoping for a break in the bad weather.

“It’s a very nerve-wracking time of year right now with this delayed harvest,” Gill said.

She says farmers are concerned with the health of crops still in the field. Soybeans are susceptible to mold during constantly wet conditions. Corn, too. Gill says corn also can suffer weakened stalks that can cause the plant to fall to the ground.

“The corn crop now at this point has started to get a lot of stalk rot,” Gill said. “Which was promoted by a humid, wet late August and September. So the viability of the corn stalks right now is starting to diminish daily.”

More than 10 inches of rain have fallen in the last six weeks in parts of Minnesota, increasing the pace of crop deterioration. And there’s also been plenty of wind to knock over the corn stalks. Gill says the rash of thunderstorms that included the Sept. 20 tornadoes also damaged crops.

Cloud, cold and rainy and generally depressing weather. That’s how Thomas Hoverstad put it. He’s a scientist at the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca.

Hoverstad and SROC data collectors reported average temperatures of just 47.6 degrees in a period from Oct. 4 through Oct. 10. That’s 4.4 degrees cooler than normal.

Rain fell on five of seven days during the period, totaling 2.25 inches and adding to an already saturated field condition for farmers.

“The weather was not productive for farmers getting work done this week but crops themselves were not able to make any progress either,” Hoverstad said in a Wednesday press release. “Corn that was 18 to 20 percent moisture last week actually gained moisture to 20 to 22 percent his week. We are still waiting for the dry weather we asked for last week.”

And while warming and dryer conditions are expected to break next week, Thursday’s temperatures dipped to 32 degrees.

The weekly Minnesota Crop Progress and Condition report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state Department of Agriculture said “cool temperatures, clouds and rainfall were common throughout much of the state” for the week ending Oct. 7.

Just 37 percent of soybeans and 15 percent corn had been harvested as of Sunday, according to the report. And while that corn figure is ahead of the five-year average of 10 percent, it’s expected to slow dramatically by next week’s report.

Soybeans harvested fell behind the five-year average of 45 percent.

Coupled with the wet conditions is a depressed farm market. Prices for delivery to the United Farmers Cooperative facility in Le Sueur for Oct. 18 have corn at $3 bushel and soybeans at $7.48.

Corn delivered Oct. 31 to Guardian Energy in Janesville had a price of $3.15 a bushel.

The soybean tariffs imposed by the Trump administration have cut off the China market and have contributed to the low commodity market. And the international grain market is in excess, holding prices down, as well.

That means many farmers will harvest what they can this year at a loss. But better days may be ahead, at least on the weather front. And that means farmers will be back in the field next week, pushing hard.

South Central College agriculture dean Brad Scholesser says if that happens, farmers will harvest non-stop.

“When it does dry out, we’re able to put an awful lot of harvest activity underway,” Scholesser said. “And see that crop get harvested and put into storage very rapidly.”

Mark Steil, MPR News, contributed to this story.

Former Regional Managing Editor, Adams Publishing Group--Southern Minnesota/Western Division: St. Peter Herald, Waseca County News, Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald. Now serving as a freelance reporter.

Load comments