After a long, hard winter: Rain, cold stalls farmers at starting gates of crop year
WILLMAR — It could be the middle of next week before farmers in west central Minnesota get into the fields to begin planting this year’s corn crop.
What is needed is a string of nice days, with sunshine and warm temperatures, to warm the soil after the long, hard winter and after up to 4 inches of rain this week.
“We are patiently waiting,” Clarkfield-area farmer Doug Albin said Friday morning, the tone of his voice contradicting the words of his statement. “It is nice to see the sun today, we need to get into spring here,” he added.
Albin recorded 2½ inches of rain this week, with areas around his farm receiving 3 inches. His farming operation has been at a standstill since some early spring wheat planting.
It’s not only the rain that has farmers concerned about the late start to the crop year, it is also the fact that there have been but a few nice, warm, sunny days to warm the soil, he added.
West of Willmar, Larry Konsterlie estimated that he could be planting corn by the middle of next week, having received 4 inches of rain this week.
“There’s really nothing done in our area,” Belgrade-area farmer John Mages reported Friday morning. “Even on the lighter ground.”
Mages suspected farmers in the area would try to start preparing for planting by applying fertilizer after the weekend.
“We need warm days and sunshine to get going,” he said. “It’s just a matter of waiting it out.”
This year may be a repeat of last spring, when wet conditions held farmers out of the fields until around May 6. Kandiyohi County Farm Service Agency director Wes Nelson noted that his records showed it was that date by the time farmers were full-scale into planting and they had corn planting finished by May 17 and still made a decent crop in the fall.
“Hopefully, our patience will be rewarded,” Nelson said. He noted that the rainfall has recharged the soil moisture that had been largely depleted by last year’s fall drought conditions.
“It’s always good to have water in the bank, so to speak,” he said.
The benefit for a week’s worth of rain is that the drought conditions are greatly diminished in the state, with 7.79 percent of Minnesota, basically the southwest portion of the state, in moderate drought. A total of 23.47 percent of the state, including parts of Kandiyohi, Swift, Chippewa and Renville counties and all of Meeker County, are rated as abnormally dry, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor data released Thursday.
As of Monday, 4 percent of Minnesota’s corn crop had been planted, compared to none a week prior and a year ago, according to the weekly USDA crop report. The five-year average is 30 percent planted by April 28.
Iowa’s farmers fared a bit better, with 15 percent of their corn crop planted, compared to 2 percent a week prior and a year ago. Iowa’s five-year average at this point is 33 percent.
Nationally, in the 18 states that plant 91 percent of the nation’s corn crop, 19 percent of the crop was planted by April 27, well under the 28 percent five-year average. Last year, 5 percent of the corn crop had been planted by April 27.
The key date for Minnesota’s farmers to have their corn crop planted is May 15, according to a University of Minnesota Extension news release by Jeff Coulter, corn agronomist. University research at Lamberton, Morris and Waseca, funded by the Corn Growers Association, showed that average yield was 95 to 98 percent if corn was planted by May 15 and 92 to 95 percent when the crop was planted by May 20.