Year in review: Spring, fall rain delays, cool summer make for challenging crop year
WORTHINGTON -- Two words can pretty much sum up the 2009 crop year in southwest Minnesota -- weather delays.
By the last week in April, 40 percent of the state's corn crop had been planted, along with 2 percent of the state's soybean acres. Then came the rains.
Storms in early May dumped several inches of rain across the region, forcing farmers to pull their planters and tractors from the fields for days.
"We got a couple inches of rain in the last two days," said Ron Obermoller of Brewster on May 8. He said farmers needed to be patient, which is always a difficult task in the spring. Every lost day planting could mean lost yields at harvest.
Lizabeth Stahl, Extension Crops Specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Center in Worthington said farmers in the region were still sitting pretty well, even with the spring rain delay
"We had a lot of nice windows early on to get the crop in the ground," Stahl said. "Most people got a lot of the corn in, some people have corn yet to plant ... and some people have started on beans. It's a real mix."
Still, the Minnesota field office of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported in early May that the number of corn acres planted was at least 50 percent lower than progress made a year earlier, and roughly 40 percent lower than the five year average.
Despite the late planting conditions farmers faced, by early July both the corn and soybean crops were excelling to the point that national forecasters were predicting record-breaking yields by harvest.
Cooler than normal temperatures stayed around for much of the summer, which delayed crop maturity and pushed harvest back by at least two weeks.
"We are definitely behind," said Dan Uttech, grain division manager for New Vision Cooperative, on Oct. 5. "We will usually start getting bits and pieces of bean harvest after Turkey Day, and Sept. 23rd through the 25th is really rolling hard.
"This year, Sept. 28 was the first good harvest day," he added.
In Murray County, Schmitz Grain Inc. manager Dan Schmitz said soybean yields had been coming in across the board prior to the rain delay.
"The yields have been everywhere," he said. "West of Lake Shetek, the yields have been in about the lower 40s. They didn't get a lot of rain up there. Some of the better stuff is in the upper 40s, where we got a bit more rain."
With anywhere from two to five inches of rain falling in the first week of October, harvest came to a quick halt. There were more days with rain during the month than there were days suitable for combining, pushing harvest into early November and leading to issues with high moisture in the corn crop.
"It could be a record-setting yield, but this weather that we're having ... isn't promoting dry-down in the corn," Uttech said.
He said corn should be registering at 25 percent moisture or less. This year, however, farmers had hoped the moisture would drop to 32 percent to 35 percent by the time their corn was harvested. While the rains added moisture, the cooler-than-usual summer also was to blame because crops didn't accumulate enough heat units (growing degree days), to boost maturity and dry-down.
"Even without the rain, it would be a long, late harvest because of the moisture of the corn," said Jim Willers of rural Beaver Creek. "It's going to be a costly crop, I think, because of the drying costs."
A few weeks later, moisture levels were still pretty high in the region's corn crop.
Gene "Pucky" Sandager said moisture levels in corn ranged anywhere from 24 to 28 percent toward the end of October, leaving farmers frustrated and anxious.
Still, he was optimistic that they would get the crop out before the snow came.
"We've got the whole month of November," Sandager said. "You've got to keep telling yourself and other farmers that 'Hey, life isn't that bad yet.'"
In the end, it did take all of November for area farmers to get their 2009 crops harvested, and even now there are still fields of standing corn that will now have to wait to be harvested in the spring.