Geography is destiny for crop farmers in dry yearby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — Farmers who drove to Farmfest could see the affect of the dry weather as close as the nearest corn field.
Most of the corn stalks have brown leaves on the bottom of the plant — for some as much as the bottom third of the stalk. A few plants are yellow and stunted, reflecting how much of the southwestern corner of the state is in moderate to severe drought.
The weather has been a major topic at Farmfest, the big agricultural trade show that wrapped up Thursday. Many will read with interest a crop estimate to be released today by the U.S. Agriculture Department that should tell just how much the drought and other weather problems have hurt Minnesota farmers.
Among them will be Grant Breitkreutz, who farms about seven miles northwest of the Farmfest site. He said the summer has been way too dry on his place.
"Our crops are very poor," he said. "Our wheat was an average crop but our corn crop is very poor, I'd say 80 bushels will be the best crop we've got."
That would be less than half what farmers in his area would normally expect.
Breitkreutz said many of the ears are smaller than normal. To make things worse, when rain did come a week ago, it was accompanied by 100-mile-an-hour winds that flattened much of his corn. He hopes he can get the tips of his combine underneath the downed corn and harvest it anyway.
But not all farmers expect poor crops. This year, geography is destiny.
Some of the farmers at Farmfest predicted corn yields could top 200 bushels an acre in parts of central Minnesota. A large expanse of eastern and central Minnesota is free of drought.
Besides good yields, those farmers will get a second bonus. The nationwide drought has pushed grain prices up to record levels.
Darold Medenwaldt, who farms in the Alexandria area, said high grain prices will definitely help him and his neighbors.
"They'll look good for the guys around there, yah," Medenwaldt said. "They'll be smiling too. Got a big smile."
With prices at record levels, even farmers with below average crops will profit.
Last year, when drought also damaged Minnesota crops, the statewide average corn yield dropped a bit below average to 156 bushels an acre.
Stopping on one of Farmfest streets crammed with everything from grains bins to shiny new tractors, southeast Minnesota farmer Jack Lawrence said he this year's yield to be even smaller, perhaps 130 or 140 bushels an acre.
Lawrence farms near Cannon Falls, which still has plenty of moisture. But in a sign of how varied the weather and its affect on farming is this year, his fields were hurt by too much water — a flooding 10-inch rain in June. Lawrence, who had had to replant 200 acres, expects good yields on most of his fields, but said the replanted corn will be below average.
"We're hoping for like 125, if there's not an early frost," Lawrence said.
Dean Youngren, of the Pennock area in central Minnesota, wonders what will happen next year. There's little if any reserve moisture in the soil.
"Hopefully we'll get ample rainfall this fall and a little more snow than we did last year, and spring rains to start off next year good," he said.
Youngren said he'll be watching the weather patterns closely, to try and get a clue about whether the dry weather could stick around for another year.