The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 8, 2013

Crops making comeback

Wet spring delayed planting, may reduce yields this fall

By Dan Linehan
dlinehan@mankatofreepress.com

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After a few weeks of hot, sunny days, corn and soybeans are catching up despite a wet spring that delayed planting. But even those crops are still behind, and some corn and soybeans were put in so late that yields will likely suffer.

“We made incredible progress on corn and soybeans in last two weeks,” said Wayne Schoper, a farm business management instructor with South Central College. “Now we're getting to the point where we need some moisture.”

Bob Noy, who farms near Vernon Center, said most of the corn in Blue Earth County is in good shape.

“But it varies a lot from area to area,” he said.

Amboy-area farmer Gary Eisenmenger said corn planted in mid-May started out well.

“Guys who went hard got most of their crop in and started out looking pretty good,” he said.

But the rain kept on coming, and Eisenmenger had one field of corn with standing water for three weeks, except for a day and a half.

“That corn is all yellow and I truly don't think it'll make anything,” he said. “I don't think we're catching up.”

Though crop health varies within the Mankato region — generally better to the northwest and worst to the southeast — statewide data shows crops are still behind, overall.

The average corn stalk was 30 inches tall by Sunday, about 16 inches shorter than normal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average soybean plant was 8 inches tall, compared with the normal of 12 inches.

“This is probably one of the worst crops I've seen,” said Steve More, who farms about three miles southeast of St. Clair. He's been farming for more than 30 years.

More said his yields may be decent if they get enough rain, but adds that “you don't have to get very far south and east and it's not looking good."

Kent Thiesse, farm management analyst at MinnStar Bank, said some farmers were planting in mid-May while others to the east were still waiting for fields to dry out from early May snowfall.

Those late planters will get a “double whammy” because their crops have shallow roots. This means they'll be the first plants to be stressed from being too dry.

Given the late planting, an early frost would be especially troublesome.

“If we get an early frost … all these predictions about a 14 billion bushel crop would go down the drain,” said Jerry Cooney, who farms near Le Center.

Soybeans were similarly planted late, with some farmers putting them in as recently as last weekend.

Thiesse said soybeans planted after July 1 will only yield perhaps 50 percent to 60 percent of a normal crop, and worse if the planting season is shortened by an early frost.

So farmers are having to decide between planting soybeans late and hoping for a good remainder of the season or collecting insurance on unplanted fields. They'll only get 60 percent of their original insurance guarantee if they don't plant. And that guarantee was only worth a portion of the crop's full value — typically about 75 percent, Thiesse said.

Eisenmenger, the Amboy-area farmer, remembers planting soybeans on July 7 in the wet year of 1993, and said yields were so low that it wasn't worth it.

“I think they're a lot more optimistic than I am,” he said.

The farmers agreed that it's far too early to predict yields, which will depend on steady rain this summer and the frost date this September or October.