Weekend rain helped some - but not all - farmersby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
The USDA's latest weekly crop report says for the most part Minnesota farm fields are doing well. But in some parts of the region a lack of rain is starting to hurt crop development. Fifty-six percent of the state's soil is rated short or very short of moisture.
St Cloud, Minn. — Although the Twin Cities had a good shot of rain Sunday, the storms missed dry areas of central and northeastern Minnesota that are several inches behind in yearly moisture.
Farmers in the southeastern corner of Minnesota are having a good year so far.
"I think we've got one of the best crops growing out in the field that we've had," says Fritz Breitenbach. "That's saying a lot because we've had some pretty good crops in the last few years,"
Breitenbach is with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester. He says the area has had a near perfect mix of warm days and adequate rain. The late weekend storm across parts of southern Minnesota just sweetened the deal, with corn and soybean fields soaking up an inch or more of moisture.
"It seems like we get it right when we need it. We've been pretty fortunate compared to a lot of areas in the United States and in Minnesota from what I understand," he says.
One area of the state that hasn't been so fortunate is central Minnesota. Driving through the countryside you can see fields of corn with curling leaves. That's the first sign the plants are too hot and dry. This is a worry for corn farmers. The corn is now tasselling and without adequate moisture won't develop properly.
On his small farm west of St. Cloud, Bill Otto sees signs of dryness in even the most drought-resistant plants.
"Look at that," he says, pointing. "Even the sunflowers are wilting a little today!"
Otto is watering dozens of tomato plants growing in a garden behind his house. The soil here is dry and dusty. The tomato plants' leaves hang limp in the hot midday sun.
"They're looking a little dry right now in the middle of the day, they're getting high demand for moisture. If I didn't water them, they'd be hurting," Otto says.
When they're finally ready, Otto will take these tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables from his garden to local farmers' markets. He's also got a five acre orchard with 120 apple trees nearby.
He says the dry soil in this part of the state might mean he'll sell fewer and smaller apples this year. But he says this is the third year of drier than normal conditions in central Minnesota and he's getting used to the challenge.
"It's like any farm business, you put the seed in and it's a risk from that point on," he says.
Otto says like other farmers around the region, he'd love to see an inch of rain a week for the rest of the summer.
But you don't have to look far to find farmers who've seen too much rain this year. Some spots in eastern North and South Dakota that saw heavier than normal spring rains, still have flooded fields. They can't be replanted and they won't produce a crop this year.
- All Things Considered, 07/09/2007, 5:50 p.m.