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Despite cold and wet spring, crops are doing well

WILLMAR -- A cool, wet start to the spring has meant late planting, late crop emergence and a delay in cutting alfalfa for hay. The good news is ground moisture is finally adequate after a two- to three-year dry spell.

"Concerns about the drought are getting washed away," said Wes Nelson, director of the Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County, on Friday, following a dose of heavy rains the day before.

"It looks more like a normal June this year," said Nelson. "I call it the monsoon season."

Rain varied throughout the region this week, with some areas getting less than an inch and others reporting three inches during the latest storm Thursday.

After taking a road tour early Friday morning to look at crops, Grant Herfindahl, director of the Farm Service Agency in Pope County, said crops actually look very good.

"The corn stands are beautiful," said Herfindahl. "Germination looks great. All we need is a little heat and it'll catch up."

Pope County has been dry and brown for the last couple years, Herfindahl said, who was thrilled to see the positive effects of the rain. "What strikes me is how green everything is."

In Meeker County, however, the soil is getting saturated and there's been some ponding in fields, said Kathy Garner, Farm Service Agency director based in Litchfield.

Farm fields in Meeker County "don't need rain right now," Garner said. "In July and August we'll be grateful for every drop we get."

There has been concern that hard rains would make it difficult for soybeans to emerge, but Herfindahl said that happens when heavy rains are followed by hot temperatures. With the temperatures remaining cool, he doesn't think soil crusting will be a problem.

Corn and soybean crops are behind, "but we're not panicking at this point," Nelson said. If the cool weather continues all season long, extra fuel costs to dry corn in the fall could be a major concern.

Soaring costs for land rent, fuel, seed, fertilizer and herbicides have increased input costs for crops this year. Nelson said many farmers have invested $200 an acre in just fertilizer costs for corn crops.

"It's a high-stakes poker game," Nelson said. "We have so much invested in this crop now. It's a big financial risk."

Commodity markets have been very strong, which is good news. But Nelson said the high input costs may still exceed the returns in the end.

The wet weather has also not been conducive for harvesting hay. The first-crop hay cutting is usually done by now. That could make it difficult for livestock producers to get the hay they need locally. And with high fuel prices, trucking hay in will be very expensive this year, Nelson said.

In response to a nationwide shortage of hay, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has opened up 24 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program acres this year for haying and grazing for eligible participants. Certain land will be open for grazing after the nesting season, which is Aug. 1 in Minnesota. Nelson said he's had numerous inquiries about that program, which tells him there's concern about a potential hay shortage.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
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