Delayed planting and rainy summer days have set Scott County crops back about two weeks this year, but farmers are hopeful the closing months of the season will allow them to catch up.
“We still need warm weather, we need to stay in the 80s and keep moisture,” said Les Quatman, a Jordan farmer who grows corn, soybeans and small grains.
The past week of sunshine and favorable weather shows signs of a productive August, but local crops need to do some heavy lifting to catch up from a delayed planting season caused by heavy rains in April and May. Corn planting is typically completed by mid-May, but this year many farmers weren’t able get seeds in the ground until Memorial Day — or later.
“We’re running 30 days behind” Quatman said. “It took a long time to plant. We started planting the second week in May and we finally finished the end of June.”
Some farmers were delayed so long they were forced to call it quits. University of Minnesota Extension Educator Colleen Carlson said about 1,000-1,500 acres of farmland around Scott County haven’t been planted this year. By the time spring rains let off, some farmers missed the window to produce a yield adequate enough to cover their costs.
“Yield production drops dramatically after June for corn and you can plant soybeans until July 1, maybe July 10,” Carlson said.
Those farmers have the option to apply for programs through the USDA Farm Service Agency that reimburse a percentage of the average county yield, Carlson said.
Farmers who made it through the delayed planting season have been faced with less than ideal summer growing conditions. One measure used to record favorable conditions — growing degree days — shows that Scott County is lagging 5 percent behind the average number of growing degree days. Growing degrees are used to measure sunlight and precipitation — key factors in developing a healthy crop. Scott County’s growing degree days are calculated by the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca.
Long story short, after the heavy spring rains, overcast and cool days have further held back the local corn crop.
“The cloudy days have contributed to the lack of growing degree days,” Carlson said.
In the midst of all this, historic flooding on the Mississippi River brought record-breaking delays to the barge season on the Minnesota River at the Port of Savage, the destination for many Scott County crops. As a result, local farmers are months behind on transporting grains due to high water levels halting barge traffic this spring.
“That’s where I sell all my grains,” Quartman said. “I just started hauling soybeans in there. I had them contracted for May and we just started this week hauling.”
The grains are able to hold up and withstand the extra months of storage, but the the delay has made farmers’ pocketbooks a little lighter than many are comfortable with.
“You need the money, you’ve got bills to pay,” Quartman said.
Despite all the setbacks, the corn crop appears to be catching up lately.
“Tassling has happened and pollination is occurring. The kernels are starting to develop,” Carlson said.
The sunny weather of the past couple weeks has been a boon for corn growth, but if it keeps up without rainfall it could lead to a decrease in pollination and harm kernel growth.
“The silks will dry out and when the pollen drops it wont have adequate moisture to carry it to the kernel,” Carlson said.
Corn silking is already 30 percent behind the five-year average for the week of July 28, according to a recent USDA Minnesota Crop Progress and Condition report.
But fear lies on the other end of the thermometer too.
“We need a late frost, not until October,” Quartman said. “If we get a September frost, the beans ain’t going to make it, we’re just not far enough along.”
Carlson said the average first frost in Minnesota can range as early as September 15.
“We don’t want a frost in September at all, if we wait until mid-October we would be fine,” she said.
But after facing hardships at every turn this season, Scott County farmers are hardened — and hopeful.
“The corn really looks good, the beans are short but they’re coming around,” Quartman said. “We’ll have a good crop around here I think. Everything is just behind.”