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An early harvest

Positive outlook for fall harvest despite drought conditions

September 13, 2012
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - Ready or not, harvest time in Minnesota is here.

In its weekly crop weather report Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that Minnesota's corn and soybean crops were 2 percent harvested as of Sunday, compared with 0 percent for the five-year average. Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist, said he suspects that there'll be a huge jump in the percentage of harvested soybeans and corn in next week's crop report.

"This is one of the earlier harvests we've had in decades," Seeley said. "It's so extraordinarily early."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
It might be only the second week in September, but some farmers headed to the fields this week to get a jumpstart on the fall harvest. Here, a farmer unloads soybeans in a field outside of Marshall.

According to the latest report, an estimated 43 percent of corn was reported to be mature, as compared to 8 percent last year and the five-year average of 13 percent. Forty-two percent of the corn was listed as being in good condition, while 34 percent was fair. While it's too soon to tell if forecasted strong winds will cause ear droppage or stalk breakage in the fields of crop producers in the midst of harvest, Seeley said he's seen mixed yields so far.

"Actually, overall, I would say the majority of corn yields are better than expected, although there are some bad spots," he said. "The corn is coming in with 16 to 19 percent moisture. That's remarkable for this time of year."

Currently, 51 percent of soybeans were also reportedly dropping leaves, compared to 6 percent a year ago and 19 percent in the five-year average. Forty-seven percent of soybeans were listed in the report as being in good condition, while 32 percent were fair.

"Some varieties planted earlier have lost all or most of their leaves and are ready for harvest," Seeley said. "But I'd say that most crop producers are waiting for the pods to dry down a little bit more."

Seeley suggested that a combination of factors are involved in explaining the earlier-than-normal harvest season this year. In addition to getting the 2012 crop in early, Minnesota also had above-normal temperatures for plant development. As the temperatures pushed the growth along, drought conditions forced the crops to advance more rapidly.

"It's almost like an emergency buzzer goes off inside of the crop, like a survival mechanism," Seeley said. "It's truly a testament to better management and better genetics."

During the last two decades, Seeley said, crop producers have been putting in more drought-tolerant plants.

"Despite the driest growing period we've had since 1988, the crops coming out still have a reasonable yield," he said. "I think the goal for most crop producers right now is get the harvest in the bin - both the corn and the soybeans - and not do any crop tillage or soil sampling."

Like most of the state, rain is needed. While the area did receive some precipitation Wednesday, it wasn't much, and what did fall was spotty. Thirty-two counties across Minnesota currently have severe drought conditions, including nine counties experiencing extreme drought conditions.

"The big concern is that our soils need a big drink of water," Seeley said. "Until we get some rain, farmers may have to sit and be patient. They need to let the soil cool down and get moistened up. Last year, all we did was turn over five-by-five clods of dirt or actually break the plow. There were lots of broken implements last year."

While this year's yields may pale in comparison to the high yields in recent years, the prediction is that it will be better than previously expected.

"It's below the trend line, but by no means is it a drastic trend like our neighboring states," Seeley said. "Ours is looking pretty good."

Pasture and range conditions are not as optimistic, though. According to the recent report, 20 percent is listed in very poor condition, while 26 percent is rated poor. Thirty-one percent is listed in fair condition.

The other plus, Seeley predicted, is that moderate, fall-like temperatures will keep harvest time moving along smoothly.

"The bigger picture is looking better than we thought earlier," he said. "My fingers are crossed that it stays that way as harvest continues."

 
 

 

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