Minnesota crops going in at record speed

Most crops are already in the ground in west central Minnesota, well ahead of last year when a cold, wet spring delayed planting.

Spring planting is well ahead of schedule in west central Minnesota, with most of the corn and soybeans planted and crops, like this field of corn in northern Kandiyohi County, already emerging. Statewide, corn planting is a month ahead of last year. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Minnesota farmers are getting crops planted at record speed this year.

Last year, with unseasonably cold weather and heavy rains, farmers were still planting crops in June.

This year, many west central Minnesota farmers are already done.

Harmon Wilts, who farms 1,500 acres with his brother and three daughters in western Kandiyohi County and eastern Swift County, said he doesn’t recall ever being done planting by May 2.

Wilts said they got their corn and sugar beets in the ground in April and finished soybeans Saturday.


“This is the earliest we’ve planted the beans,” Wilts said. “It’s unreal how quick everything got planted,” he said.

The mild, dry spring weather helped create good soil conditions for early planting.

The latest crop progress report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service indicates that by May 3 about 76% of the corn crop was planted in Minnesota, which is a month ahead of last year and two weeks ahead of the five-year average.

The report also said that 35% of the soybean crop had been planted in the state. That’s the most planted by that date since the USDA began tracking crop progress in 1963.

“We’re off to a great start,” said Scott Newberg, executive director of the Kandiyohi County Farm Service Agency in Willmar. “It’s a bright light, considering what we’re all facing in this new environment.”

Newberg said northern Kandiyohi County farmers were some of the first to get in the fields, but he said much progress has also been made in the southern part of the county where the soils are heavier. “Everyone is busy,” he said.

Nearly everyone is done planting in Renville County, said FSA Director Larry Thielen. “The progress is unbelievable,” he said.

Other than edible beans and sweet corn, the bulk of the crops are in the ground there.


In his 34 years of working for the FSA, Thielen said he cannot remember when farmers have been done planting this early.

Brad Jacobsen, who farms 800 acres north of Kandiyohi, said he’s planted corn in April before, but he’s never finished planting corn in April — until this year.

Last year he finished planting corn May 17 and he didn’t even start to plant soybeans until the first week of June.

This year, Jacobsen said he’s nearly all done planting. He’s just waiting for the arrival of special beans that he raises for seeds.

“It was very enjoyable to be out in the fields,” he said. “It was not hard on the equipment and not hard on the nerves.”

Some of the crops have already emerged from the soil, which could be a bit dicey this week.

A cold snap that includes a forecast of frost for Thursday could damage tender plants and could result in replanting some crops.

Todd Geselius, vice president of agriculture at the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville, said nearly all the sugar beets in the region were planted by April 21, which was about a week ahead of the average timeline. Because the plants have started to emerge, Gegelius said he's a little concerned about the cold mornings forecast for this week.


"It's a little colder than I'd like it to be," he said.

Damage can happen when the temperature is 28 degrees for about six hours. Geselius said at this point the forecast doesn't look like it could cause serious problems for the young crop.

While planting is going well this year, Wilts and Jacobsen said weak farm markets that have plagued farming for several years are taking another hit because of COVID-19.

With the current corn market well under the price it takes to raise the crop, Wilts said farming is “terribly unprofitable” now. Like the weather, it’s unknown what COVID-19 will bring to agriculture as the year goes on.

Wilts said farmers are able to do their work with the support of other businesses — like implement repair shops, seed dealers and ag retailers — who are continuing to work through the pandemic.

Wilts said those individuals and businesses need to be recognized for their “extra efforts” that help farmers do their jobs.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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