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Harvest slogs along

WILLMAR -- When it comes to rain, there was just too much of a good thing this year for west central Minnesota crop farmers. Early rains helped corn and soybeans flourish and reach yield-busting status but later deluges have made it difficult to ...

Muddy ruts are seen in a corn field in northern Kandiyohi County where pockets of unharvested corn are left standing because conditions are too wet. Excessive rain in west central Minnesota has made it difficult for farmers to get the last 20 percent of the crop out of fields.Carolyn Lange / Tribune
Muddy ruts are seen in a corn field in northern Kandiyohi County where pockets of unharvested corn are left standing because conditions are too wet. Excessive rain in west central Minnesota has made it difficult for farmers to get the last 20 percent of the crop out of fields. Carolyn Lange / Tribune

WILLMAR - When it comes to rain, there was just too much of a good thing this year for west central Minnesota crop farmers.

Early rains helped corn and soybeans flourish and reach yield-busting status but later deluges have made it difficult to get those bumper crops out of fields.

Nearly all the beans have been harvested and 75 percent of the corn has been harvested in Minnesota, according to the latest USDA crop report issued Monday.

But getting those last few acres out of wet, muddy fields is proving to be a challenge.

"The wet weather definitely hasn't helped the harvest process," said Don Tweet, director of the Farm Service Agency in Lac qui Parle County. "There's less than 20 percent of the corn left, but that 20 percent that's left will be pretty difficult to get."

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Some fields never fully recovered from the heavy rain in August that dumped about 10 inches on Kandiyohi County fields, said Wes Nelson, FSA director in Kandiyohi County.

Nelson said persistent autumn rainfall that settled on top of fields already saturated with summer rain has resulted in less-than-ideal harvesting and tilling conditions.

Mud is so bad in some areas that farmers may have to wait until the ground freezes before taking heavy equipment back into the fields to avoid being towed out of muddy ruts and ripping up fields, said Liz Ludwig, director of the Farm Service Agency for Chippewa and Yellow Medicine counties.

"It's been a struggle for farmers to get the crop out, but for the most part there was a good crop to get out," Nelson said.

Beans of 60 bushels per acre and 200-bushel-per-acre corn have been common in west central Minnesota this fall.

But there were exceptions.

There are pockets of fields stretching from Swift County in the west to McLeod County in the east - including a large swath of farms in southern Kandiyohi County - that were hit with hail and wind storms that cut fall harvest yields in half.

Nelson said it was the biggest area of hail-damaged crops he's ever seen in Kandiyohi County, with farms from Raymond to Lake Lillian hit hard.

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The farmland, which is usually some of the most productive land in Kandiyohi County, didn't "fully recover" from a July 5 storm that stripped corn and bean fields and defoliated sugar beets, Nelson said.

Beans in those fields are "way less than half" the typical yield and corn is "half at best," he said, adding that sugar beets in those areas were harvested this fall with less tonnage and less sugar content.

Ludwig said fields near Montevideo were "basically wiped out" with some soybean fields producing a mere 5 bushels per acre.

"We have some really terrible areas," she said.

But other farmers are reporting "bin-busting" yields that have been the best they have ever seen, she said.

"Overall our yields will be good, but we'll have a feast or famine," Ludwig said. "It'll be either really good or really bad."

There were some sweet spots, including the sandy fields in the Brooten and Belgrade areas that easily absorbed the extra rain and got bumper crops without having to use expensive irrigation systems that typically run in July and August, Nelson said.

Tweet said he has not heard "too many farmers who are disappointed" with the yields but said that makes it "even more difficult to leave crops out in the field" while waiting for conditions to improve.

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Tweet said he has heard from about a dozen farmers in the region who bought tracks for their combines to get through wet fields.

At a cost of about $70,000, he said, it will take quite a few acres of corn and beans - which are both sinking in the markets - to make up for that expense.

Meanwhile, sugar beet harvest in west central Minnesota is wrapping up with about 1,500 acres left to be harvested for the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville, according to Todd Geselius, vice president of agriculture for the co-op.

He said the rain and the mud have made it difficult to get in the remaining fields, but he's hopeful all the beets will be lifted by this weekend.

"It's been a long harvest," Geselius said.

He said there have been no issues with beets that are being stored in piles and that the processing facility is operating on schedule.

The final challenge will be getting fall tillage completed.

Soil is packed down because of the heavy rain and not getting fields tilled in this fall will have a negative effect on crops next year, Nelson said.

Muddy ruts are seen in a corn field in northern Kandiyohi County where pockets of unharvested corn are left standing because conditions are too wet. Excessive rain in west central Minnesota has made it difficult for farmers to get the last 20 percent of the crop out of fields.Carolyn Lange / Tribune
Muddy ruts are seen in a corn field in northern Kandiyohi County where pockets of unharvested corn are left standing because conditions are too wet. Excessive rain in west central Minnesota has made it difficult for farmers to get the last 20 percent of the crop out of fields. Carolyn Lange / Tribune

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