Governor to seek federal disaster aid, crop losses mounting

WILLMAR -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty expects to seek federal disaster assistance for Minnesota farmers facing drought conditions as soon as later this week.

WILLMAR -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty expects to seek federal disaster assistance for Minnesota farmers facing drought conditions as soon as later this week.

The governor expects a survey of crop conditions, from county Farm Service Agency offices, to be complete by Thursday. That survey, the governor said, is the prelude to asking for the federal assistance.

On Tuesday, Pawlenty, Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson and state FSA Director Perry Aasness visited a Little Falls dairy and crop farm where the corn and alfalfa crops are devastated by lack of rainfall. Rainfall in Morrison County was 71 percent of normal in May, 41 percent of normal in June and only 17 percent of the usual amount in July.

The governor expects to discuss the state's dry conditions with USDA Secretary Mike Johanns before the secretary's visit to the Farmfest events next week in Redwood County.

"We most certainly will qualify (for federal disaster assistance) in many counties across Minnesota," Pawlenty said.


Monday's Weekly Crop-Weather Report from USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service showed that only 30 percent of the state's corn crop and 38 percent of the soybeans were rated as good or excellent. Topsoil moisture is very short or short for all of the state except portions of northwest and southeast Minnesota. Most of west central Minnesota is very short of moisture.

The report from the Kandiyohi County Farm Service Agency office shows a 25 percent loss on the corn and alfalfa crops and a 15 percent loss on the soybean crop.

County Executive Director Wes Nelson stressed that the assessment is ongoing and challenging for both FSA officials and farmers. And, it could get a lot worse without rain.

"The change could be dramatic, if we don't get rain in the next seven to 10 days," Nelson said.

Crops planted on lighter soils in the north and east portions of the county are already severely damaged while crops on heavy soils south of U.S. Highway 12 are in better shape, but still stressed. Approximately two-thirds of the county's crop production comes from land south of the highway, Nelson said.

To put real numbers on the losses, Nelson used last year's average production. A 25 percent loss means that the average county corn yield, 162 bushels per acre last year, would drop to 122 bushels. Soybean yields would drop from an average of 40 bushels to 33 bushels per acre.

In Renville County, losses are estimated between 20 to 25 percent of the corn and soybean crops, according to Byron Hogberg, county Farm Service Agency executive director. While every day and week without rain is making the situation more critical, farmers still have hope that the potential of the crop can be realized, he says. But the concern is growing with each day.

"The crops look good from the road, but every day it's 90 degrees and we go without rain, we lose potential," he said.


In Swift County, the alfalfa and grasslands might meet the threshold for disaster, according to Tom Anderson, county Farm Service Agency executive director. Farmers managed a second cutting of alfalfa, but it was less than normal. He doesn't expect much of a third cutting.

Anderson didn't put a percentage loss on the corn and soybean crops, because of the difficulty in assessing the damage. The crops are losing yield every day, with crops on lighter soils already suffering significant damage.

There are three crops that hold some hope for farmers, Nelson says. With rain, the alfalfa could come back for another cutting and the soybeans and sugar beets could make good crops.

The toughest part is that the crops were in excellent condition at the end of May and since then, the rain has stopped and forced producers to watch as they slowly wither away.

"You couldn't find a better looking crop," Nelson said. "But since Memorial Day, we've watched this crop deteriorate, that's been tough for farmers."

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