Tough conditions challenge area farmers

A rare clear, dry day in Pokegama Township gave an opportunity to harvest soybeans.

Area crop producers all agree that 2019 is a year that they would like to forget. Nancy Rys, who farms with her husband Tom east of Rock Creek and have a grain drying and storage business and Pioneer Hybrid dealership, said that we need to erase 2019. “It was a tough one,” she said.

We had a cold, wet and late spring that delayed planting. Then there was storm damage to crops in the Rock Creek area. Then came the cool wet summer and a fall with no nice warm autumn days. “It’s been a battle,” she added.

Wet Spring

Farmers had a delayed start with spring field work and planting due to the tough late fall a year ago. The fields were wet and it was cold so farmers could not get into their fields until late May or early June. It kept raining and areas of fields drowned out. That was followed by our cool and wet summer with a lack of sunshine and warm temperatures to provide adequate growing degree day heat units. “It was one of the most challenging years that I have experienced as a professional,” said John Swanson, Federated Coop Agronomist based in Ogilvie.

Surprisingly, the crops that survived are not all that bad according to Kevin Carlson, Chief Agronomist and Sales Manager for Federated Coop Agronomy Dept. He has seen 40 bu/ac soybeans and even as high as some 200 bu/ac corn in a few locations.

Prevented Planting

Carlson estimated that in some places on wet soils that there was as much as 20 – 30% prevented planting acres. Crop insurance rules are that fields that could not be planted needed to be planted with a cover crop, tilled or sprayed to control weeds. Some farmers had plans to plant on their prevented planting acres, but the soil was so wet that they could not even do that.

In June, USDA crop insurance announced that cover crops on prevented planted acres could be hayed, grazed or chopped for feed after Sept. 1 instead of Nov. 1. This was especially helpful to dairy and other livestock producers. One such producer was the Peterson Dairy located east of Pine City. Jacob Peterson who farms with his father and mother, Jeff and Marianne, said that they planted Japanese Millet and Annual Rye Grass on their 400 prevented planting acres. They have been busy chopping the millet and ryegrass as haylage which makes good heifer feed. He added that they struggled with muddy fields to chop corn silage, but got their soybeans harvested okay. They had planned to plant more corn, but it got too late so they had to plant more soybeans.

Another dairy producer, Mark Watrin who milks 450 dairy cows and grows corn for silage and grain, barley for grain, alfalfa and grass west of Sandstone said that his area was drier than other areas. He said that he got most of his corn planted between mid-May and Mid-June. His corn and barley yields were good, but that his alfalfa and grass yields were half of normal due to wet fields and soil compaction in the headlands. He added, “It was an atrociously wet fall. We desperately need a drier year, but not a drought.”

Replanting

Roger Peterson, District Sales Manager for Gold Country Seeds described this growing season as horrible and said, “In my career I have not seen more replanted corn than I saw this year.”

Bevan Beck, who farms with his wife Cheryl and son Mike south of Ogilvie said that he had replanted quite a bit and said, “Boy was that was a mistake. The corn did not have enough heat to grow.”

Wet Summer

The cool and wet summer with excess rainfall and without adequate sunny warm days left crops short of needed Growing Degree Days (GDD) for the corn and soybeans to mature.  “We were short 200-300 GDDs,” said Carlson. “Fortunately, hybrids today are good and farmers are still getting better yields than in the past.”

Fall Harvest

Harvesting soybeans was a challenge on most fields because of the wet rainy fall and wet soft fields. Roger Peterson said that the wet weather dragged on and farmers tried to harvest soybeans when the ground was too wet. The soybeans harvested were wet and needed some drying which decreased quality and risked splitting the soybeans. He estimated that 80% of the soybeans in this area and 30-40% of the corn was harvested as of last week.

Chad Barnick, crop insurance agent at Barnick Agency in Mora said that farmers with crop insurance who cannot finish their harvest by Dec. 10 should call their agent about getting an extended harvest waiver.  

Wet Grain Needs Drying

Most of the soybeans harvested were over 14% moisture (13% is ideal). Some got dried very carefully to avoid cracking.  Rys has seen soybean moisture levels from 14.5 to 16.5% with the lowest at 13%.  

For corn, everyone agreed that moisture levels were all over the board from 20 to 30%. All of it needs to be dried to 15%.”

Test Weights, Yields down

Corn that did not reach physiological maturity before freezing resulted in lower yields. Rys pointed out that corn often did not reach the black layer in the kernel because there were no warm fall days when the starch could pack into the kernel. The standard for corn test weight is 56 lb/bu at an ideal 15 moisture. Swanson has seen test weights in the upper 40s and low 50s.  

Beck said that his corn test weight was averaging 3 lbs/bu lower than other years at 52 lbs/bu. He said, “The corn in the low ground did not get started well and never caught up.” His soybean yields were below average in the 40s and upper 30s, moisture levels were 13% and test weight 58 lbs/bu (60lb/bu is standard).

Swanson said that yields are not horrible. They are worse in parts of fields that were drowned out.

Propane Supply

At times there has been and still could be a shortage of liquid propane gas due to the high demand for grain drying and home heating in Minnesota and the Midwest. Carlson said, “There is plenty of propane in the Gulf and in storage in Kansas. The problem is that it can’t get to where it is needed here fast enough.” He said that Federated has been able to stay even with the demand due to their rail and pipeline access.

Rys said that the recent cold snap made drying more difficult and expensive because it takes more LP gas BTUs to warm up cold and wet corn. Beck added that he is continuing to get LP gas as needed and has not run out yet.

Marketing Issues

Farmers are busy hauling grain to terminals in the Twin Cities on the river and to other markets as fast as they can. However, much of the corn is still in the field. After the river closes, grain companies will have to rely on rail transportation to New Orleans and Seattle markets.

Beck said that they hauled 20 loads to market by the Nov. 15th contract deadline and that they have enough storage capacity for the rest of their crop.

“The embargos have not helped,” said Peterson. “There is not enough demand out there and there is a fair amount of carryover from last year in the bins.”  

“Prices are not reflecting the lower yields and the need for drying,” said Rys

Carlson said the Canada, Mexico, Japan and China trade agreements need to be completed and the tariffs to end,

He recommends watching the grain markets for opportunities to market grain.  There is a huge carryover of soybeans.  He said that we need an export market for soybeans as well as and corn. The trade negotiations are critical and tariffs are not helping.

Fall Tillage

Another casualty of the wet fields and late harvest is that very little fall tillage got done. The recent cold spell froze the ground and put an end to fall tillage. “It will put farmers behind in fieldwork next spring,” concluded Swanson.

“With saturated soils, we need a dryer spring,” Carlson added.

Rys commented, “This weather could be the new normal.”

“This year is one we would not like to see again,” said Beck.

Roger Peterson concluded, “This year was no fun for anyone.”

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