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Enough already: Continuous rains hampering crop development

Ponding water from June 20 and subsequent rains across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa are taking quite a while to recede in farm fields like this soybean field south of Worthington. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)1 / 2
Ponding water in this corn field south of Worthington shows the slow process of receding. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — From snowstorms in April to floods in June and July, southwest Minnesota farmers have had their share of weather woes this growing season.

Add in hail storms and wind, and it’s anyone’s guess what harvest will bring in just a few short months.

“Three weeks ago, we were looking very, very good,” said Compeer Financial Agent Mike Crowley of area corn and soybean fields. “Everybody was real, real happy with the way things looked.”

In early June, the agency’s phones began ringing, and with the rains that arrived in mid- to late June and continue, farmers are still reporting drowned-out fields across portions of Nobles, Murray, Rock, Jackson and Cottonwood counties.

Crowley said heat helped advance the crops despite planting delays, but the first sign of trouble in Nobles County came June 5. That’s when a hail storm dropping golf ball-sized chunks of ice wiped out about six to eight sections of land, primarily Larkin Township.

“That’s when the rain started, and farmers struggled to get it replanted,” he said.

Though there are entire fields of corn and soybeans under water in portions of southwest Minnesota, closer to Worthington, Crowley said there are pockets where the crops aren’t too bad.

“From Rushmore and Worthington and going east and north of town there’s heavy waterlogged areas — not just drowned-out, but waterlogged,” Crowley said. “It’s not good growing conditions for the soybeans. They just don’t like their feet wet.”

The rains have taken the edge off any good growing possibilities, Crowley shared.

A drop in the corn and soybean markets hasn’t helped the glumness in farm country.

As of Monday, the price for November soybeans had dropped nearly $1.50 per bushel since February. The price for December corn has dropped as well in the same five months, but by a much smaller margin at 30 cents per bushel.

Farmers with crop insurance will be compensated for lost yields due to the natural disasters, but Crowley said it will be a while before the full impact of the flooding is known.

“Looking at the size of these drowned-out areas, it’s definitely going to have a large effect on average yields,” he said.

In areas where flooding has receded in fields, some farmers are planning to replant, whether it’s sorghum, oats or a cover crop.

“Some are just going to let the weeds come up and knock them down,” Crowley said. “Some are still waiting for the water to go down.”

It’s hard to say when farmers have seen so much of their crops flooded. Back in 1993 — 25 years ago — it was a rough year for farming with lots of rain and cool temperatures.

“We got the corn planted but struggled heavily to get the beans in, or stopped planting because it was too wet,” Crowley recalled. “This year we’ve got heat units, but we have a heckuva lot more water now than we did in 1993 and it’s just come so fast.”

According to the Minnesota Crop Progress & Condition report issued Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, topsoil moisture statewide is 30 percent surplus and 67 percent adequate, with subsoil moisture at 27 percent surplus and 68 percent adequate.

Both corn and soybean crop condition decreased slightly in the last week, with 79 percent of corn and 75 percent of soybeans rated good to excellent statewide.

Liz Stahl, University of Minnesota Extension crops specialist at the Worthington regional office, said the stage of the crop, duration of flooding, temperatures and length of time for the soil to dry all play a role in determining crop survival and yield impact.

“We had a wide range of planting dates this year,” she said, noting that corn plants below the five-leaf stage generally can’t survive under water for more than 24 hours in temperatures above 77 degrees, while corn at the V7 stage can tolerate standing water up to seven days. Soybeans can generally survive if they’re under water for up to 48 hours, she added.

“Four days or more you’ll get shorter plants with fewer nodes, and six days or more will cause significant yield reduction. More than a week under water, you could lose the whole stand,” Stahl said.

She encourages crop producers now to watch for nitrogen deficiencies in their cornfields.

Excess moisture has made it easy for corn to access what it needs without putting energy into root development. Without good root development, Stahl said plants aren’t able to access the nitrogen farmers applied, which is why people are seeing more yellowing of corn plants in the field.

Stahl said if farmers are seeing nitrogen deficiencies in their fields, they can apply nitrogen, but no more than 30 pounds per acre. U of M Extension has resources on nitrogen application methods available to producers in its crop news blog at https://bit.ly/2zpvjiF.

Later on in the season, today’s waterlogged fields could lead to stalk rot in corn.

“Keep an eye on areas that were flooded,” Stahl said, noting conditions conducive for pathogens to develop. “Stalk rot will affect standability, so that will really be important to watch at harvest time.”

Stahl also advises farmers with drowned-out crops to consider planting some sort of crop in those areas once they’ve dried up and are accessible.

“It’s a good idea to get something growing out there, as it does prevent fallow syndrome,” she said. “You need good fungi to help with nutrient uptake.”

It also helps to have a crop planted to control weed growth.

“If you don’t have something growing out there, you could have a big weed patch,” Stahl said. “That produces weed seed and you could deal with (those repercussions) for years to come.”

There are some inexpensive options for cover crops, and Stahl directs producers to the U of M Extension website for more information.

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

(507) 376-7330
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