Corn and soybean fields across Scott County were full last week — an unusual and unwelcome sight near the end of October.
The heavy rains of April and May, which led to a very late planting season, continue to haunt local farmers as their crops remain about two weeks behind schedule. 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,” Jordan farmer Les Quatman said in August. “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.
Recent crop condition reports show that only 52% of Minnesota’s corn crop is listed as good to excellent. The same goes for 51% of the soybeans. The wet weather has hit soybeans the hardest, though, since they’re more sensitive to moisture and cannot be dried as easily, or manually, as corn.
“If you add heat, it diminishes the quality of beans — they’ll split,” Carlson said.
Recent crop reports from the Department of Agriculture show that an average of 62% of Minnesota soybeans are harvested by mid-October. As of Oct. 17, Carlson said soybeans had yet to be harvested in the area. In central Minnesota, she said, farmers started harvesting soybeans two weeks ago.
A later soybean harvest means lower test weight, less oil, lower quality — and ultimately — less profit. Soybeans aren’t harvested if the crop contains more than 16% moisture, so the bright sun and sweeping winds last weekend provided ideal conditions for some farmers to get their crop out of the field and to market.
Corn, on the other hand, faces a better prognosis due to the crop’s durability.
“There is an urgency to get the beans out first for fear of snow and if we get more moisture they can swell in the pods and rot,” Carlson said. “Typically you take beans out first. Corn can withstand being on the ear longer.”
Corn can also be stored in grain dryers. By mid-October, about 78% of silage corn (used for livestock feed) was harvested — about two weeks behind the average. As long as corn doesn’t face sustained cold temperatures, which leads to premature leaf death and falling, the crop will hold out.
So far, only one day of 26-degree temperature (Oct. 14) has been recorded by the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca — it takes four consecutive days to cause black layering and leaf death in corn crops.
Despite the wet season however, conditions are still better than last October, when 10 of the first 15 days had precipitation, including two inches of snow.
After the harvest
If farmers manage a successful harvest this fall, it’s likely they’ll still face difficulties when they take their crops to market.
A trade war between the U.S. and China, kicked off after President Donald Trump set tariffs on the world’s second largest economy last year, continues to affect prices. With grain bins full at the Port of Savage, partially due to high water levels, farmers are forced to find room at a local co-op, store grains at home or sell at unfavorable prices.
“We will have some concerns with storage,” Carlson said. “The crop prices are so low that farmers are doing on-farm storage.”
The grains are able to hold up and withstand the extra months of storage, but the delays will make farmers’ pocketbooks a little lighter than many are comfortable with.
“You need the money, you’ve got bills to pay,” Quartman said.
But Carlson, along with USDA forecasts, remains optimistic.
“We need to remember that we’ve harvested a lot of corn and soybeans in November,” she said. “We’ve been spoiled ... we have larger equipment now and can harvest large acres in a short period of time. Even small-acre guys still have time to get their corn harvested and dried in the field.”