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Too much heat, too little rain

WILLMAR -- A long stretch of warm, dry weather that's likely to extend at least another week is putting stress on area crops, especially corn, alfalfa and small grains, like wheat and oats.

WILLMAR -- A long stretch of warm, dry weather that's likely to extend at least another week is putting stress on area crops, especially corn, alfalfa and small grains, like wheat and oats.

"Everybody is looking for a good soaker right now," said Wes Nelson, Kandiyohi County Farm Service Agency director.

From the road, corn fields look green, tall and in pretty good shape, said Leon Johnson, director from the Chippewa County Farm Service Agency.

"But we could use a drink," Johnson said. "We need rain -- and soon."

A U.S. Department of Agriculture crop report released Monday said Willmar's temperature during the last week was 1.3 degrees above normal and the precipitation was 3.95 inches below normal.

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That matched most of the neighboring towns in surrounding counties. One exception was Lamberton in Redwood County, where the temperature during the last week was 1.1 degrees cooler than normal and the precipitation was 4.82 inches above normal.

Whether crops have adequate moisture or not "depends on where you farm," said Dave Nicolai, a University of Minnesota Regional Extension educator from Hutchinson. Nicolai said he's had numerous reports that field drainage tile lines "stopped running about a week ago," which means there is no excess moisture in the fields.

The forecast this week for the state looks like more of the same -- hot and dry in most areas with pockets of scattered rain. "Some people will get it (rain) and others won't," Nicolai said.

That will make a difference in what's harvested this fall.

A majority of the corn and soybeans in Minnesota are ahead of schedule in height and maturity, according to the USDA, with nearly 70 percent of those crops in good or excellent condition.

Crops in sandy soils are "starting to burn up" while crops on heavy soils are doing OK, Johnson said. "But I don't know how much they can take."

Corn is at the crucial tasseling stage and needs rain for pollination. "The next two weeks are going to be very critical for our corn," Nicolai said. Without a "pretty good rainfall" in the next 7-10 days, the corn yield will drop.

Knowing there's the potential for a bumper crop this year, Nelson said it's especially tough for farmers to see good-looking crops deteriorate. But, he said, seed genetics have improved drought tolerance for corn and there have been surprising yields in recent dry years.

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Soybeans are just flowering now and can wait a bit longer for additional moisture.

Pasture land is also showing signs of stress. The USDA report said 72 percent of pasture land in Minnesota is in fair to very poor condition with 25 percent in good condition and 3 percent in excellent condition.

Many farmers have cut their second crop of alfalfa but may not get a third cutting unless it rains, Nelson said. That will make it tough for livestock farmers to find adequate hay for the winter.

Under the farm bill, qualifying CRP land can be opened up for managed grazing and haying after Aug. Some states, like North Dakota, are pursing emergency measures to make CRP land available now, before feed quality is reduced with continued hot and dry conditions.

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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