LUVERNE — While Tuesday’s visit by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials was solely to collect damage estimates from governmental agencies such as counties, cities, townships and cooperatives, the region’s farmers continue to count their losses.
In Nobles County, reports are still coming in from farmers — some of whom are reporting up to a total crop loss.
“We have quite a few people who are devastated by the event,” said Stephanie McLain, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Worthington. “We’ve had some people come in with 100 percent crop loss.”
Rock County farmers have also experienced considerable crop loss, though the extent continues to be tallied.
“There’s definitely areas that have been severely damaged or destroyed on account of the flood itself,” said Eric Hartman, director of Rock County’s Land Management Office.
“The other thing that enters into this, as well, is on June 16, we had a wide swath of hail hit the northern end of the county.”
Early estimates are that the northern third of Rock County was impacted by hail, Hartman said, adding that more acres lost from hail damage may be found than from flooding.
With large fields of crops obliterated either by hail or by flooding, farmers are advised to work with their crop insurance or risk management advisors before making plans.
Because of the timing of the storms, McLain suggests farmers consider planting cover crops.
“If you have bare soil, any fertilizer you put out there has the potential to be lost,” McLain said.
Cover crops could scavenge the nitrogen and recycle it, making it available for the next planting season.
Bare soil has the potential to erode with wind and rain, she said, and planting cover crop vegetation will provide protection to the soil and also improve infiltration and compaction. Cover crops can also crowd out undesirables like ragweed and pigweed.
“If we can get something in there to compete with them, we reduce the likelihood of that becoming a weed patch year after year after year,” McLain said.
A fact sheet developed after the floods wiped out row crops in southeast Minnesota in 2013 provides farmers with information on cover crop options. Available at the local NRCS office, it offers suggestions on planting dates, species and seeding rates.
McLain said there may be cost-share available for those interested in planting cover crops and encourages producers to complete an Environmental Quality Incentive Program application. The applications are ranked on a monthly basis at the local office.
Liz Stahl, University of Minnesota Extension crops specialist, agreed that cover crops are a good option for producers at this time.
“People have planted (soy)beans up to July 4 and maybe a little later, but it’s always riskier if you do wait,” she said.
Stahl acknowledged that many fields still have standing water in them, or are still too wet to get in with any equipment.
“Cover crops are certainly something to look at — not only from a soil erosion standpoint, but to reduce fallow syndrome risk the next year,” she said.
Yet, with herbicides applied to many fields prior to the flooding, Stahl said producers will need to read the labels on the product they used and whether it could impact cover crop growth.
“Cover crops typically aren’t on the label — we don’t really know how much impact it could have,” she said, adding that with some herbicides, there may be issues with cover crop seed germinating or possible stand reduction. Some herbicides may also restrict grazing or use of cover crops for forage.
“If it’s just for erosion control, you can do that — the big issue is whether you harvest for feed or forage,” she added.
Meanwhile, for those who haven’t had crop loss due to hail or flooding, Stahl said producers should check the status of their corn crop for signs of nitrogen loss.
“There is a supplemental nitrogen worksheet available on our website, (www.extension.umn.edu/crops),” she said. “With the saturated soils out there, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got enough (nitrogen) out there for the crop.”
With the heavy rains washing gullies in farm fields, conservation practices have also been impacted by the flooding. Rock County Land Management Assistant Director Doug Bos said earlier this week that his office is finding gullies and sheet erosion on hillsides creating “floodplains of silt.”
Having completed a county erosion estimate of Rock County’s 320,000 acres, he said there was an estimated $160,000 in damage to existing conservation practices and another $4.5 million in damage caused by gullies and washouts on land where conservation practices weren’t in place.
“It’s a very good demonstration of what conservation practices can do,” Bos said. “We probably only covered three-fourths of the county in those figures — those dollars are just erosion costs or damage, nothing with the roads or ditches.”
Farm fields that ended up with gravel in them due to washed out township roads — or silt carried from farther upstream — should be scraped free of the material, Bos said.
“There’s no structure to the soil in silt (to support root development), so it wouldn’t be the best for growing crops,” he said. “It’s nice, black soil, but it needs a lot more to it to grow crops on it.”
Bos said the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources will pull together information from each of the impacted counties. He anticipates that some assistance will be made available to repair the conservation practices.
“Three years ago when we had damage, they had flood damage funds for us,” Bos said. “This is a magnitude much greater than we had three years ago.”
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.