Frequent rains delay farmers in planting corn

Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle Gary Anderson, Princeton, on June 7 stands on the north side of one of his farm fields where a lake has formed this spring.
Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle
Gary Anderson, Princeton, on June 7 stands on the north side of one of his farm fields where a lake has formed this spring.

Longtime farmer Gary Anderson isn’t sure if the crop land in the Princeton area is the wettest he has ever seen or if 1984 was the wettest.

But he doesn’t ever remember seeing a small lake cover his farm land as much as it is this spring. It seems there was more grass sticking up in the water there back in ‘84, he said.

Canada geese were sitting on the lake in that field just off Mille Lacs County Road 3 about a half mile south of First Street in Princeton in the past two weeks. Both Gary and his son Greg, who rents Gary’s crop land, said last week they know they won’t be planting grain crops on those fields this year.

Greg said he only had 100 acres planted in corn early last week and contrasted that to a normal spring when he would have had 250 acres planted in corn and 250 acres planted in soybeans by now.

“Not one bean in now, and this is probably the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Greg, who has been farming in the area all his life.

Phil Peterson, rural Milaca, said he has water-logged soil on hills where he has never had such water before. Fortunately for him and his brother Abdon, who operate their dairy farm, they can plant corn for corn silage, so the planting time is not as critical as it is for grain.

Seed salesmen like Kevin Rowland, of the Pease area, and agriculture business employees like Mark Boyle, at Mille Lacs Soil Service in Foreston, and Ken O’Brien, at the Princeton office of Federated Co-ops, noted that their businesses are affected by the wet conditions.

O’Brien said that Federated Co-ops sales will be down this year because farmers were not able to use as many inputs such as seed and fertilizer nor probably the amount of propane as usual. O’Brien explained that there likely won’t be as much corn to dry in the fall.

Rowland sells organic and natural fertilizers and Channel seed corn.

Excessively wet ground on the Sonnek family farm north of Foreston last week. Times photo by Joel Stottrup
Excessively wet ground on the Sonnek family farm north of Foreston last week.
Times photo by Joel Stottrup

“A lot of the guys are either going preventive planting or they are bringing their seed corn back and getting soybeans,” he said. One of his customers called him, he said, to say he was going to bring his four bags of seed corn back and plant hay instead.

Rowland’s reference to preventive planting means there are farmers who bought crop insurance and if they can prove the conditions were such that they couldn’t plant on time, they can collect insurance.

Boyle said late last week that perhaps only about 25 percent of the corn had been planted in the area.

Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension educator for the counties of Benton, Stearns and Morrison, said on June 9 that 96 percent of the state’s corn had been planted, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and “a big chunk” of the remaining unplanted fraction lies in central Minnesota.

Data from the National Weather Service explains why so much of central Minnesota is so far behind in planting corn. The St. Cloud area has had 7.19 inches above normal rainfall since April 1 and Mora’s rainfall since the same date was 7.96 inches above normal, according to the National Weather Service, Martens said.

The National Weather Service is predicting June, July and August will be cooler than normal, but has no predictions on the amount of precipitation, he added.

Martens noted how the rain quit coming in July and August last year, leaving crops on sandy ground drought stressed.

Heather Rubner, an employee at Mille Lacs Soil Service in Foreston, said many farmers have been getting stuck in area fields this spring.

“There’s a lot of wet soil everywhere (in the area),” Boyle added.

“I’ve been here 21 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Boyle said. “We’ve had some ups and downs but never anything where it stayed so long and is so widespread. Before, there were some areas you couldn’t go into (for tilling or planting because of wet soil), but now it is so widespread in central Minnesota.”

Farm consultant Troy Lupke said businesses selling fertilizers and agriculture chemicals are suffering at this point, and it is a direct reflection of farmers not doing as well in the fields.

The wet weather has also made it challenging to harvest hay because farmers don’t want to rut up the wet ground, Boyle noted.

“My hay is ready to cut; the wet ground is preventing it,” he said. “It won’t carry the equipment.”

Boyle said all farmers can do is keep watching the calendar and the weather.

“It’s a gamble, so do you make the right choices at this time to come out in the end,” Boyle said.

Dan and Karol Orton crop farm, raise some beef cows and have a trucking business several miles north of Princeton. Karol said she has never seen wet conditions like this in her lifetime.

“It’s been a long time,” Dan said. He wagered that if area farmers don’t already have corn in, then they’re not going to do it now. The ground is so soft that equipment starts to sink in the ground, Dan observed.

With the ground so wet, spraying for weed control can’t be done like normal and then the weeds will be coming up, said O’Brien. “We’ve had equipment stuck,” he said. Also, bringing equipment over soggy ground creates big ruts, he added.

O’Brien and farmers, including Long Siding area farmer Tim Wilhelm said planting corn in more moist conditions can lead to problems later. The roots in wet soil don’t go very deep and so when it gets dry, the plants suffer, Wilhelm and O’Brien explained.

“As far as planting, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” said O’Brien. “We’ve had wet springs before.” There have been struggles in previous years to get the seed in the ground, but that was usually for a week or two and then it dried enough to plant, he said.

“But to have this much (rain) where you can’t get it in the ground, it’s not been like this,” O’Brien continued. “Old timers I’ve talked to can’t remember seeing water standing … not where you can’t get crops in the ground.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to help people get their crop in, but we can’t control the weather. They’re farmers. They’re mentally geared up. They want to produce, even if they get the crop in late. They don’t want to rely on insurance.”

The farmers with livestock have to plant something to feed them, Martens said. Some farmers last year were planting corn for silage up to the first week of July, and they might do that again this year, Martens added.

Some of these farmers might switch to a sorghum for producing feed, although that is not as good as corn silage, Martens noted. Martens has information on field trials for different kinds of plants for making forage (call 800-964-4929 for a copy).

Martens said you can also try an Internet search for “Yield and Feeding Value of Annual Crops for Emergency Forage” or for “MN Greenbook 2004” and look for page 45. Another place to search on the Internet, Martens said, is Wisconsin Extension Forage.