WORTHINGTON — More than 19.4 million acres of farmland across the country didn’t get planted this year due to flooding and frequent spring rains, according to a new report issued Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Just in the six counties of far southwest Minnesota, nearly 224,000 acres did not get planted this spring. Farmers in northwest Iowa fared a bit better, but still had between 7,000 and 8,000 acres unplanted in each of Lyon, Osceola and Dickinson counties.
Murray County had the highest number of acres classified as prevented plant with the USDA Farm Service Agency at 65,250.
David Schreiber, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Murray and Rock counties, said the largest share of prevent plant acres was through central Murray County.
“Producers on the very west side of the county and producers on the very east side of the county had better luck planting than producers in the central part of the county,” Schreiber said.
In some areas, it’s still too wet for farmers to get into those fields.
While some farmers are doing periodic tillage to control weeds on the unplanted acres, Schreiber said many were able to seed cover crops, “which is the best thing you can do for the soil,” he added.
“USDA requires they control wind and water erosion and noxious weeds,” Schreiber said. “Cover crops take care of erosion — and the weeds as well.”
In some cases, he said corn stalks left from 2018 are providing some cover benefits, and in those areas, farmers are out spraying to control weeds.
In Rock County, Schreiber said most of the 24,545 acres reported as prevented plant follow a line north of Interstate 90.
“South of the interstate, producers got crops planted in pretty good shape,” he said. “I’m anticipating on the south end of the county some pretty decent yields.”
In Nobles County, FSA Director Ron McCarvel said the eastern half to two-thirds of the county had the highest level of prevent plant acres reported. Altogether, the USDA reports more than 47,000 acres went unplanted.
“There’s more livestock in the western half, so more people can utilize silage,” McCarvel said. “What did get planted over there, they need for feed.”
McCarvel reports quite a bit of the acres were seeded with cover crops, though some farmers are still finding it difficult to get into the field.
Farmers could get some assistance in paying for cover crops — up to $15 per acre through the Market Facilitation Program — to seed prevented plant acres. Schreiber said the covers had to be planted by the end of the day Aug. 1.
“When the program was announced in later July, people were planting cover crops left and right,” Schreiber said, noting that oats and forage sorghum were the most popular covers seeded.
“I think people trucked in oats from all over the place — wherever they could find it,” he said. The oats will be a feed source for livestock producers, as well as the forage sorghum.
Linda Stuckenbroker, FSA executive director for Cottonwood and Jackson counties, said while financial assistance was available for farmers to plant cover crops, funding was in short supply.
“(NRCS) had such a large amount of producers that they had to go with a lottery system,” she said. “Very few people in our area were able to get any cost share from NRCS on those cover crop acres. It was a very limited amount of money.”
Jackson County reported 31,948 acres of prevented plant, while Cottonwood County had 13,898 acres. Stuckebroker said the acres were widespread in Jackson County, while in Cottonwood County, producers in the southern two-thirds were the hardest hit in terms of not being able to plant a crop.
“Cottonwood County has the most varied soil profile of all of Minnesota,” Stuckenbroker said, adding that with both the Watonwan and Des Moines rivers flowing through the county, there were a lot of flooded acres along the rivers.
Stuckenbroker said what farmers need now is a late fall, a late frost and a lot of heat units (growing degree days calculated on sunshine) to give the crops they have the best chance for increased yields.
“We’re way behind and we need a good fall,” she said, adding that a long stretch without severe weather is also needed.
The high winds that blew through the area three weeks ago caused a lot of green snap — corn stalks that broke — and farmers are already worried about the reduced yields and challenges created for the combines at harvest.
“It’s been a trying year,” Stuckenbroker said.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service released a report on Monday noting that corn production nationwide is down 4% this year from 2018, and soybean production is down 19% for the same one-year period.
The corn for grain forecast is 13.9 billion bushels, with an anticipated average yield of 169.5 bushels per acre, down 6.9 bushels per acre from 2018. The soybean forecast is at 3.68 billion bushels, with average yields anticipated at 48.5 bushels per acre, down 3.1 bushels per acre from 2018.