Area crop producers all agree that 2019 is a year that they would like to forget. Nancy Rys, who farms with her husband Tom east of Rock Creek and have a grain drying and storage business and Pioneer Hybrid dealership said that we need to erase 2019. “It was a tough one,” she said.
We had a cold, wet and late spring that delayed planting. Then there was storm damage to crops in the Rock Creek area. Then came the cool wet summer and a fall with no nice warm autumn days. “It’s been a battle,” she added.
Farmers had a delayed start with spring field work and planting due to the tough late fall a year ago. The fields were wet and it was cold so farmers could not get into their fields until late May or early June. It kept raining and areas of fields drowned out. That was followed by our cool and wet summer with a lack of sunshine and warm temperatures to provide adequate growing degree day heat units. “It was one of the most challenging years that I have experienced as a professional,” said John Swanson, Federated Co-op agronomist based in Ogilvie.
Surprisingly, the crops that survived are not all that bad according to Kevin Carlson, chief agronomist and sales manager for Federated Co-op Agronomy Department. He has seen 40 bushels per acre soybeans and even as high as some 200 bushels per acre corn in a few locations.
Carlson estimated that in some places on wet soils that there was as much as 20 – 30 percent prevented planting acres. Crop insurance rules are that fields that could not be planted needed to be planted with a cover crop, tilled or sprayed to control weeds. Some farmers had plans to plant on their prevented planting acres, but the soil was so wet that they could not even do that.
In June, USDA crop insurance announced that cover crops on prevented planted acres could be hayed, grazed or chopped for feed after Sept. 1, instead of Nov. 1. This was especially helpful to dairy and other livestock producers. One such producer was the Peterson Dairy located east of Pine City. Jacob Peterson who farms with his father and mother, Jeff and Marianne, said that they planted Japanese millet and annual ryegrass on their 400 prevented planting acres. They have been busy chopping the millet and ryegrass as haylage which makes good heifer feed. He added that they struggled with muddy fields to chop corn silage, but got their soybeans harvested OK. They had planned to plant more corn, but it got too late so they had to plant more soybeans.
Another dairy producer, Mark Watrin, who milks 450 dairy cows and grows corn for silage and grain, barley for grain, alfalfa and grass west of Sandstone said that his area was drier than other areas. He said that he got most of his corn planted between mid-May and mid-June. His corn and barley yields were good, but his alfalfa and grass yields were half of normal due to wet fields and soil compaction in the headlands. He added, “It was an atrociously wet fall. We desperately need a drier year, but not a drought.”
Roger Peterson, district sales manager for Gold Country Seeds described this growing season as horrible and said, “In my career I have not seen more replanted corn than I saw this year.”
Bevan Beck, who farms with his wife, Cheryl, and son, Mike, south of Ogilvie said that he had replanted quite a bit and said, “Boy was that a mistake. The corn did not have enough heat to grow.”
Short Wet Growing Season and Wet Summer
The cool and wet summer with excess rainfall and without adequate sunny warm days left crops short of needed growing degree days for the corn and soybeans to mature. “We were short 200-300 GDDs,” said Carlson. “Fortunately, hybrids today are good and farmers are still getting better yields than in the past.”
Harvesting soybeans was a challenge on most fields because of the wet, rainy fall and wet, soft fields. Roger Peterson said that the wet weather dragged on and farmers tried to harvest soybeans when the ground was too wet. The soybeans harvested were wet and needed some drying which decreased quality and risked splitting the soybeans. He estimated that 80 percent of the soybeans in this area and 30-40 percent of the corn was harvested as of last week. There is still a lot of corn in the field.
Chad Barnick, crop insurance agent at Barnick Agency in Mora said that farmers with crop insurance who cannot finish their harvest by Dec. 10 should call their agent about getting an extended harvest waiver. He said that he was able to get all of his crop harvested and tillage done this fall after what he described was a bad, bad year.
Wet Grain Needs Drying
Most of the soybeans harvested were over 14 percent moisture (13 percent is ideal). Some got dried very carefully to avoid cracking. Rys has seen soybean moisture levels from 14.5 to 16.5 percent with the lowest at 13 percent.
For corn, everyone agreed that moisture levels were all over the board from 20 to 30 percent. Carlson has seen moisture levels in the mid 20 percent while Peterson has seen them from 30 down to 19 percent. All of it needs to be dried to 15 percent.”
Test Weights and Yields are Down
Corn that did not reach physiological maturity before freezing resulted in lower test weights, higher moisture levels and lower yields. Rys pointed out that corn often did not reach the black layer in the kernel because there were no warm fall days when the starch could pack into the kernel. This resulted in the lower test weights. She said that if you cut a cross-section of a kernel you could see air pockets where the starch did not pack in.
The standard for corn test weight is 56 pounds per bushel at an ideal 15 percent moisture. Swanson has seen test weights in the upper 40s and low 50s.
Beck said that his corn test weight was averaging three pounds per bushel lower than other years at 52 pounds per bushel. His corn yields on his best fields were 165-175 bushels per acre and in spots up to 200. In one field, the moistures on his 80-day corn was 20 percent and 95-day corn 23 percent. He said, “The corn in the low ground did not get started well and never caught up.” His soybean yields were below average in the 40s and upper 30s, moisture levels were 13 percent and test weight 58 pounds per bushel (60 pounds per bushel is standard).
Swanson said that yields are not horrible. They are worse in parts of fields that were drowned out. He added that there were a ton of variables that affected yields. I have seen yields up to 200 bushels per acre south of here.
At times there has been and still could be a shortage of liquid propane gas due to the high demand for grain drying and home heating in Minnesota and the Midwest. Carlson said, “There is plenty of propane in the Gulf and in storage in Kansas. The problem is that it can’t get to where it is needed here fast enough.” He said that Federated has been able to stay even with the demand due to their rail and pipeline access.
Rys said that the recent cold snap made drying more difficult and expensive because it takes more LP gas BTUs to warm up cold and wet corn. Beck added that he is continuing to get LP gas as needed and has not run out yet.
Farmers are having to weigh whether they can afford to harvest and dry their corn or run the risk of storm and deer damage by leaving it in the field to dry over the winter. If they have livestock, silos or bagging and handling equipment harvesting and storing it as high moisture corn could be an option for some of their very wet corn.
Farmers are busy hauling grain to terminals in the Twin Cities on the river and to other markets as fast as they can. They have had to check daily to see what terminals are taking grain due to river flooding. Now with the river freezing up the barge traffic may end this week. However, much of the corn is still in the field. After the river closes grain companies will have to rely on rail transportation to New Orleans and Seattle markets.
Beck said that they had hauled 20 loads to market by the Nov. 15 contract deadline and that they have enough storage capacity for the rest of their crop.
“The embargos have not helped,” said Peterson. “There is not enough demand out there and there is a fair amount of carryover from last year in the bins.”
“Prices are not reflecting the lower yields and the need for drying,” said Rys.
“We need the Canada, Mexico, Japan and China trade agreements to be completed and the tariffs to end,” said Carlson.
He recommends watching the grain markets for opportunities to market grain. There is a huge carryover of soybeans. He said that we need an export market for soybeans as well as corn. The trade negotiations are critical and tariffs are not helping.
Roger Peterson said fields that were wet when planted this spring and wet fields that were harvested prior to fall soil freeze-up had a lot of soil compaction damage done. We are going one more year with ruts to fix and not being able to correct the bad compaction from past bad years. He added that the early ground freeze-up prevented farmers from doing any deep tillage to break up the hardpans that have developed over the past few wet years. The soil compaction is also creating tougher weed control problems including water hemp and giant ragweed.
Another casualty of the wet fields and late harvest is that very little fall tillage got done. The recent cold spell froze the ground and put an end to fall tillage. “It will put farmers behind in fieldwork next spring,” concluded Swanson.
“With saturated soils, we need a dryer spring,” Carlson added.
Rys commented, “This weather could be the new normal.”
“This year is one we would not like to see again,” said Beck.
Roger Peterson concluded, “This year was no fun for anyone.”