Wet fall could slow good harvest in central Minn.
St. Cloud, Minn. (AP) — If they can just get into the fields, central Minnesota farmers still anticipate strong corn and soybean yields for the year.
But a cold, wet early October had delayed the Minnesota harvest, despite a couple of warmer weekend days.
"I expect farmers would really appreciate a couple weeks of sunny weather," said Dan Martens, the Extension educator for Benton, Morrison and Stearns counties.
Most fall hay had been harvested in the St. Cloud area by Oct. 19. Soybean and corn silage harvests were under way, but very little corn for grain had come out of area fields.
"October is usually the big month for getting corn harvested. Sometimes the harvest extends into November," Martens said. "Because the crop was slow in maturing, the corn harvest will likely last longer this fall than we usually expect it to. People will be waiting for it to dry down in the field so they can get started."
In Mayhew Lake Township, Lawrence "Butch" Thell had a long harvest to-do list the third week of October. Topping it was bringing in the corn silage.
"The frost ended the growing season, so we have to hurry up to get it done," Thell said.
Once the silage is in, Thell's attention turns to soybeans and corn for grain.
"The soybeans will be ready to combine as soon as we get some sunny days," Thell said. "We just need some sunshine and low humidity and the beans will dry rapidly. The corn is ready now."
If he's lucky, Thell will still have time for fall tilling before Minnesota weather puts an end to field work.
Despite the unusually cool summer, it looks like 2009 will be a good year for area corn and soybean yields. The USDA in August predicted bumper crops, and it looks like Minnesota may deliver them.
"We're still on track statewide to have a very good corn and soybean crop," Martens said. "There will be some pockets with lower yields because they didn't catch the moisture they needed ... but overall it's going to be a pretty good crop across Minnesota this year."
September's sunshine was critical. It gave corn and soybeans the warmth and sunlight they needed to mature.
"We were blessed with good timing," Thell said. "We did not get a lot of rain, but we got it when we needed it. And we got sunshine when we had to have it. The corn is looking pretty darn good."
The second key ingredient for high yields was a late frost. This year, the first killing frost hit the central Minnesota area on Oct. 9. That was good news for corn and soybeans.
"The frost held off long enough that most of the crops did mature adequately," Martens said. "Now the task will be to get it all harvested."
But the frost came too early for some area potato farms.
Potatoes require cool temperatures at harvest time or they don't store well. So farmers typically harvest them between mid-September and mid-October.
This September's warm weather delayed the area potato harvest until October, narrowing the harvest window considerably.
Marlene Schlichting works at Prairie Potato Co. in Rice. She said they pulled their potatoes out of the field just in the nick of time.
"We got it out just before it froze with minimal damage to it," she said.
Schlichting said the company's crop had already been reduced by 20 percent in some fields because of hail damage.
Rick Gilbertson of Pro Ag Crop Consultants said some potato farmers were not able to beat the cold weather.
"The cold temperatures make potatoes more vulnerable to bruising," Gilbertson said. "Potatoes are 95 percent water. If it's extremely cold, like the 23-degree, 24-degree, 25-degree temperatures that we had, then parts of the potatoes can freeze."
The problem for potato farmers is it's not apparent at harvest time which potatoes, if any, are damaged.
"You really can't distinguish a frozen potato from a healthy one until a few days after the harvest," Gilbertson said.
By that time, the potatoes are already in storage, where bad potatoes can spoil the whole crop. Farmers monitor their stored tubers until they ship so they can act quickly if spoilage appears.
"There are a lot of variables, and there's always a trade-off," Schlichting said. "When September is cool, it's good for the potatoes and bad for the corn. When it's warm, it's good for the corn and bad for the potatoes."
The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated 89 percent of the potato crop was harvested by Oct. 11.
In addition to getting the crops out of the field, farmers also are rushing to prepare the soil for next year's crops.
"The other thing is getting the fall tillage done," Thell said. "If it freezes up before mid-November you can't get the fall tillage done. Turning up the soil in the fall is quite important. It's difficult to do it in the spring."
Missing the fall till can lead to planting delays in the spring, Martens said.
"Land that is worked back in the fall warms up and dries out more quickly in the spring," Martens said. "It can also be difficult to get a good seedbed when all the tillage is done in the spring because the soil tends to work up in clods that don't crumble easily."
Recent heavy rains and snow have also added urgency to the process, limiting the days farmers can be in the fields.
"We hope that it doesn't stay on a rainy trend. That makes for wallowing around in the mud during the harvest season. It's tough on equipment, tough on people and tough on the land," Martens said.
Over at the Thell farm, the last few weeks have been wet ones.
"According to my rain gauge, we had almost 4 inches of rain in this last rainy period. The soil just absorbed it all; the subsoil had to be pretty dry," Thell said. "If soil conditions hadn't been on the dry side, we'd have hopeless mud and we don't."
But the precipitation also has a bright side: It paves the way for next year's crop.
"Fall rain is really important for recharging soil moisture for next year," Martens said.
Information from: St. Cloud Times