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Rains hamper planting: Southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa lag behind their state

A rural Rushmore farmer plants corn Sunday on ground, dry enough to work up and plant between rains. Tim Middagh/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Area farmers grew accustomed to praying for timely rains during the past several years. Now, they’re praying for sunshine and some wind to dry up the fields so they can get their crops planted.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its weekly crop progress report Monday afternoon, and it noted that 89 percent of the state’s corn crop and 46 percent of its soybean crop was planted.

That’s not the case, however, in the southwest corner of the state, where ponds are still visible in some fields and the week’s weather forecast calls for chances of rain nearly every day.

Denny Weber, New Vision Co-op agronomist, estimated locally about 75 percent to 80 percent of the corn crop is planted.

“A lot of guys got in the field starting Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A lot of ground got planted — they made very, very good progress,” Weber said Monday. “If we could have just had two to three more days, we could have got a lot of it planted.”

The Iowa Crops Progress report noted that northwest Iowa also lagged behind other areas of that state because of recent rains.

“Farmers continue to make planting progress between the rains and now 80 percent of corn and 29 percent of soybeans are in the ground,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey of Spirit Lake said Monday. “Western Iowa has been wetter throughout the planting season and as a result only ... 68 percent of corn in northwest Iowa has been planted.”

Liz Stahl, crops specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Center at Worthington, said she’s heard of some farmers who have finished planting corn, and others who haven’t started.

“Most guys are set up to cover a lot of ground pretty quickly once things dry out,” she said. “We just need a good window here to make some progress.”

Long-term research shows that to reach optimal corn yields, planting should be done between April 25 and May 1, while research on a May 10 planting date shows yield potential at 94 percent, Stahl said. The research is based on averages, though, and this spring’s above-average rainfalls and below-average temperatures are changing things up.

Weber said the cooler weather means farmers who haven’t had a chance to plant corn yet aren’t missing out on many growing degree units — the units required to fuel plant growth and maturity.

At this point, the primary concern is the rain and the muddy fields. Stahl said if the rainy weather pattern continues into the end of next week, farmers will see a greater yield hit. Most farmers won’t look at switching to an earlier hybrid until at least May 25, she added.

As for soybeans, Stahl said a May 1 planting, on average, nets maximum yields.

“Each year you get your own set of conditions and you deal with what you have to deal with,” she said.

Before some of the crops are even planted, farmers are being asked to be on the lookout for pests and weeds.

Stahl is encouraging farmers to not forget about preemergence herbicides this spring and said waterhemp is a huge issue. Meanwhile, Bruce Potter, integrated pest management specialist with the U of M’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center at Lamberton, warns of black cutworms this spring.

“Several significant black cutworm flights have arrived in Minnesota, with most activity on a diagonal from Rock to Sibley counties,” Potter noted in his Extension blog.

For now, farmers just want to be able to get back in the fields.

“If we can get planting again here by Thursday-Friday, I think by next Sunday night a lot of the corn and a lot of the beans will be in the ground,” said Weber. “We just need to miss this next shot of rain.”

“Keep that sunshine a’coming,” he added with a laugh. “We’ll pray for no rain and then we’ll have drought — careful what we pray for. I always say the Good Lord takes care of us, but sometimes it’s just not the same timing that we want.”

For University of Minnesota planting resources, visit extension.umn.edu/crops. For information on replanting, visit http://bit.ly/1iDWJxy.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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