Crops fall behind last year's progress
WORTHINGTON — With high temperatures and little precipitation, many area farmers are scanning their fields and wondering what this year’s fall yields will bring.
Agronomists seem to be equally unsure about what farmers should expect and are seeing a range of field conditions in southwest Minnesota. In many instances, it seems the success of this year’s crops will be based largely on if farmers were lucky enough to get rain when they needed it.
“It’s so variable this year,” said Bruce Potter, integrated pest management specialist at the University of Minnesota Extension. “Some areas have had quite a bit of rain and are doing pretty good.”
Other fields, however, are experiencing low moisture conditions that are hurting corn and soybeans as the summer draws to a close. That, combined with several 90-degree days and lows barely touching 65, has created difficult conditions for maturing plants.
“We’re getting some premature dying of plants again due to the moisture stress,” said Liz Stahl, an Extension crops educator. “That has an impact on yields when the plant dies off before it should. We should still be filling soybean seeds, and we should be filling the corn kernels as well.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, precipitation deficits in southwest Minnesota range from 4.5 inches to .5 inches, based on the 30-year balance of evaporation and precipitation.
“This is really our third year in a row of dry fall conditions,” Stahl said. “A lot of places came out OK last year, but we haven’t had a lot of soil moisture this year and it’s a concern.”
Potter, on the other hand, seemed more optimistic about corn and soybean conditions.
“We have some tremendously drought-stressed areas out there,” Potter said. “But some areas are looking pretty good. I think there is still a pretty good crop out there in most cases.”
He added, though, that southwest Minnesota is dotted with pockets that have been skipped over in recent rainfalls — except for the Lamberton area, where a swath of fields are suffering from lack of rain.
“Lamberton is one of those that is hurting this year,” Potter said. “(The affected area) doesn’t go too far north or south, and then it goes east to Springfield and then towards New Ulm.”
Looking toward the fall, Potter anticipates the heat and dry weather may lead to an increase in stalk rot in corn fields.
“Hopefully they’ll get everything combined before they fall over,” he added.
This fall’s first killing frost will also be a concern as farmers get anxious to get crops out of the field. Ironically, planting for many farmers was held up this spring by heavy rains, which in turn will push back harvest dates.
“In the long-term forecast, it looks promising that we shouldn’t have an early frost, but that has been a concern, too,” Stahl said. “If you look at the development stages we’re at, if we don’t have an early frost, we should be OK.”
Statewide, corn is 85 percent at or beyond the dough stage — almost a week behind the average of 94 percent — and is only 50 percent indented — compared to last year’s 95 percent — according to a crops and weather report released Monday by the United States Department of Agriculture. Twenty-seven percent of soybeans are turning yellow, compared to 81 percent last year, and only seven percent are dropping leaves, compared to 47 percent last year.
Likewise, in Minnesota, only 31 percent of the topsoil moisture and 39 percent of subsoil moisture is adequate this year.
In spite of the slow-to-mature crops and low moisture levels, only 13 percent of both corn and soybeans in Minnesota are considered to be at poor or very poor quality.
Stahl and Potter have each heard a variety of comments from farmers regarding this year’s harvest. While some are concerned about the effect the heat and lack of precipitation will have on the crops, others remain hopeful.
“I think they are pretty optimistic,” Potter said. “I don’t blame them. Even in spite of this heat and lack of rainfall, some of the heavier soils have a good corn crop yet, and there are some pretty good beans out there, too.”
“The variables — how much moisture a field received and the types of soils — those are all playing a role again this year in yields,” Stahl added. “If you’re lucky, you got some rain, and that is going to be a big factor this year.”