Southeast Minnesota soybean harvest underway

Farmers have grain to sell

Lisa Behnken is a crops specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester.

It’s official. Soybean harvest is underway as farmers are bringing in the first soybeans of the season. While the growing season was difficult, early soybean harvest results are described as “pretty good, all things considered.”

Lisa Behnken is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator in the Rochester office. She said things really got going around the middle of last week and continued through the weekend before rain settled in. Some of the early reports are saying yields are coming in right around 55 bushels-per-acre, roughly ten bushels lower than farmers harvested in 2016.

“Farmers may have pockets that are doing a little better than that,” she said, “which is normally the case, but when they look at field averages, some are saying closer to 60 and some say closer to 50. That’s a respectable yield. It’s not a bin-buster but it’s a respectable yield.”

It’s respectable, especially when you look back at some of the challenges in soybean fields around the area. Farmers saw a few pockets of white mold in certain fields. Periodic cooler weather and excessive rainfall made it hard to just get the beans in the ground on time. Insect pressure was hit-and-miss. Beans didn’t suffer any drought-stress this year, but, the biggest challenge they did face was weed pressure.

Soybean harvest

Soybean harvest is always a challenging time of year but southeast MN soybean fields struggled with weed pressure, thanks to cold and wet weather limiting the timing and effectiveness of herbicide applications in the spring.

“Cool and wet weather at the beginning of the growing season made it difficult for the herbicides to even activate,” she said, “so some of the weeds escaped control early in the season. If farmers have to chase weed control through the summer, it gets pretty tough. Unfortunately, by the time we got to August, there were a lot of messy soybean fields with a lot of Waterhemp and Giant Ragweed in them.”

The weather made herbicide applications difficult to get down on time in the spring. Farmers are also dealing with increasing weed resistance to herbicides. When weed density gets high in bean fields, that affects yield negatively. Behnken said weed pressure was likely the number one story in southeast Minnesota soybean fields.

Houston and Fillmore County Extension Educator Michael Cruse said soybeans are coming out in those areas as well. While there are still some soybean fields turning brown, quite a bit of beans are already out of their fields.

“With the (up until recently) dry conditions, soybean fields dried out quickly and things progressed to the point where they were ready to come out,” he said. “Soybean harvest is officially off and running.”

While there aren’t a lot of hard numbers coming into his office yet in terms of yield estimates, Cruse echoed Behnken when he said early numbers say yields won’t be as low as some may have thought coming into harvest. Early-weed control challenges and an inability to apply herbicides on time will be the biggest factor in possible yield loss.

Here’s the conversation with Behnken:

 

Minnesota cropland rents rising

Cash Rent paid for non-irrigated cropland in Minnesota during 2014 averaged $185.00 per acre, an increase of $8.00 from 2013, according to the latest report released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Crop land rental rates continue to rise in Minnesota, according to a new survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (Photo from AgWeb.com)

Crop land rental rates continue to rise in Minnesota, according to a new survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (Photo from AgWeb.com)

Non-irrigated cropland rents ranged from an average of $14.00 per acre in St. Louis County, to $276.00 per acre in Nicollet County. Six counties had average rents greater $270.00 per acre and 10 counties had average rents less than $40.00 per acre.

Cash rent paid for pasture in Minnesota averaged $26.00 per acre in 2014, down $2.00 from 2013. Average cash rents ranged from $8.60 per acre in Carlton County to $61.50 per acre in Brown County.

Cash rent rates for irrigated cropland and other states are available online at:
http://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/index.asp.

Here are some of the cash rents for southeast Minnesota:

Minnesota Farmers are shelling out an average of $8 more per acre for cropland than they did last year, according to a survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (photo from farmprogress.com)

Minnesota Farmers are shelling out an average of $8 more per acre for cropland than they did last year, according to a survey from the National Ag Statistics Service (photo from farmprogress.com)

Olmsted County: Cash rents on non-irrigated cropland average $246 per acre, up from $220 last year.  The average cash rent for pasture is $29 an acre, up from $26 last year.

Wabasha County: Cash rents on non-irrigated cropland average $222 per acre, up from $206 last year.  Cash rents for pasture average $44.50 per acre.

Dodge County:  Cash rents on non-irrigated farmland average $274 per acre, up from $264 last year.  Cash rents for pasture land average $45 dollars per acre, up from $41 last year.

Fillmore County: Cash rents for non-irrigated farmland average $236 per acre, and that’s actually down from $245 last year.  Cash rents for pasture land average $43 per acre, up from $41 dollars an acre last year.

Winona County:  Cash rents for non-irrigated cropland average $222 per acre, up from $206 last year.  Average cash rents for pasture land is $26 per acre, and that’s down from $40 per acre a year ago.

 

 

SE Minnesota farmers struggling with second straight year of planting delays

Time is getting short for SE Mn farmers to get their crops in the ground (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Time is getting short for SE Mn farmers to get their crops in the ground (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Farmers in southeast Minnesota had a tough 2013 season, and it started right away in the spring.  After a long, cold winter, spring saw continued cold temperatures, heavy rain, and a freak snowstorm in early May that the National Weather Service office in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, called a “historic event.”

Planting Wet Spring

Farmers in SE Minnesota are seeing their share of wet fields this spring (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Turning the calendar forward to 2014, Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester told farmers in the area to forget about last year.  Unfortunately, that’s been hard for farmers to do as this spring looks a lot like last year, with colder-than-normal temperatures, and excess rainfall.  In fact, KTTC Television called April one of the “wettest ever,” in the Rochester area.

Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo from Extension website http://r.umn.edu/academics-research/extension/staff/UMR_EXTENSION_STAFF_L_BEHNKEN.html)

Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo from Extension website

Behnken talked about planting progress so far in 2014.  She said there has been more progress than last year, but not a lot:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farmers hope their planters will get moving in their fields sooner rather than later (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Farmers hope their planters will get moving in their fields sooner rather than later (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Farmers need sunshine and warm temps to get their seeds planted (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Farmers need sunshine and warm temps to get their seeds planted (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Keeping a weather eye on Minnesota

“Persistent.”  Not exactly the word many Minnesotans may choose to describe this winter, but it’s appropriate, according to Mark Seely, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist.

U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from minnesotaalumni.org)

U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from minnesotaalumni.org)

 

According to a recent Google search, the word ‘persistent’ has many interesting synonyms:  tenacious, determined, single-minded, relentless, interminable, and uninterrupted.  Seely said the reason all these words fit is it hasn’t been this consistently cold in Minnesota and the Midwest in a long time. In fact, the Minnesota Public Radio website calls this “the coldest winter in 30 years.”

 

Looking back

 

Seely said the interesting thing about this bitterly cold winter is, “it didn’t necessarily start early.  The winter that we know it as, frankly, didn’t start until the first week of December.”  Since then, Seely said the state has been in a deep freeze, the likes of which it hasn’t seen in some time.

 

“Since December, it’s been the coldest weather, by any measure, since the winter of 81-82.”  Winter this consistently cold is a new experience for many young Midwesterners:

 

Seely said the Midwest has had colder winters, but few that have been this persistent.  “It has been so consistently cold, we’ve had many of our observers report large numbers of nights with below zero readings.”

How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS)  (photo from blogs.mprnews.org)

How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS) (photo from blogs.mprnews.org)

 

What is driving the cold?

 

According to the Weather Underground website, a weather phenomenon known as the polar vortex may be driving this relentlessly cold weather in the Midwest.  The polar vortex is an area of very cold air that typically centers over Siberia and Canada’s Baffin Island.  A piece of the vortex broke off, and was forced south in part by the Jet Stream, into the Great Lakes Area of the US.

 

DTN Senior Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said “An unusual area of warm air over Alaska and northwest Canada pushed the cold air south.  They’ve had a lot of warm weather in Alaska this year.”  The polar air has pushed south in the past, so it’s not an unusual occurrence.

DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino  (Photo from www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com)

DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino (Photo from www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com)

 

Uneven snow cover

 

“I would say the eastern half of the state ended up with fairly decent snow cover that’s pretty consistent,” said Seely.  “However, the western half of the state, because of the high winds, ended up with variable snow cover.  In areas unprotected from the wind, our weather observers have reported seeing areas of bare soil in their farm fields.”

 

Seely said in unprotected areas, the lack of snow cover has allowed the permafrost has driven 4 to 6 feet deep, and that’s something, “We haven’t seen that in a long, long time.”  That means the ground is going to take time to thaw for spring planting in Minnesota.

One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)

One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)

 

What is ahead?

 

“The weather models are coming together and showing some moderation for the rest of the winter,” said Seely.  “That’s not to say we won’t have colder than normal days, but the sheer number of below zero days are going to go away.”

 

Palmerino said soils “east of the Mississippi River are in pretty good shape moisture-wise.  If anything, I think the main concern going into spring is that it’s too wet.”  He said “a stormy weather pattern and cooler than normal temperatures would definitely interrupt spring planting.”

 

Seely said the good news is the future models are showing moderating temperatures into March.  However, not all the predictions are positive:

 

Palmerino said it’s a fine line when farmers look to spring.  You want the weather to warm up and melt the snow, but not too fast either:

SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)

SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)

 

Here’s what it’s been like to drive in the Midwest this winter:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southeast Minnesota farmers take a hit in 2013

The catchphrase is “prior planning prevents poor performance.”  In 2013, southeast Minnesota farmers found out that Mother Nature can have plans of her own.

 

Southeast Minnesota farmers saw a banner year in 2012, with the growing season producing bumper crops.  In 2013, farmers saw a complete 180-degree turn for the worse, and the area is still feeling the effects as farmers look to the upcoming growing season, when they get back into the farm fields that help produce our nation’s food supply.

 

2013 started poorly

 

Lisa Behnken is a Regional Extension Educator in Crops with the University of Minnesota Extension Office in Rochester, and she said 2013 saw a very slow, wet start to the season.  When spring did finally begin to wake up, the first problem area farmers saw hit the livestock industry particularly hard.

 

Lisa Behnken of the U of Mn Extension office, Rochester (Extension Photo)

Lisa Behnken of the U of Mn Extension office, Rochester (Extension Photo)

“The first thing that hit people was the alfalfa,” said Behnken. “We had a massive alfalfa winterkill.”  She said roughly 50 to 90 percent of a farmer’s acres died.  This alfalfa is a prime source of feed for the beef and dairy cattle industries, and farmers were in a tough spot.  Behnken called it the first “big, red flag of the spring.”

 

A wet spring delays planting

 

Behnken said farmers took the winterkill into consideration heading into spring planting, and rearranged some plans to include re-seeding of alfalfa, but here came the next challenge:

 

2013 was hard on livestock farmers because of alfalfa winterkill

2013 was hard on livestock farmers because of alfalfa winterkill

Southeast Minnesota saw a very wet spring.  Behnken looked back at the calendar as May 2 saw an estimated 15 to 20 inches of “heavy, wet snow” blanket the region.  “It turned cold, and the snow just stayed in the fields.  There was virtually no window to plant in the month of May.”

 

She estimated farmers saw a very small window to plant in mid-May, when a few fields opened up.  Farmers were able to plant a few fields of corn into the dead alfalfa stands, but there was still manure and fertilizer to get down on empty fields, and it was “a lot to do in a very small window,” said Behnken.

 

To plant or not to plant

 

May 31 was the deadline for farmers to decide on taking payments for prevented planting acreage, or to keep forging ahead to try to get corn in the ground, and it was a tough decision for everyone, but especially for livestock farmers.  Behnken said the livestock farmers “needed feed for their animals.  They had to plant.”

 

June 15 led to another tough decision for farmers – whether or not to plant soybeans or take prevented planting

payments to help cover some of their farming costs.  “Acres were still under water in mid-June.  It’s not like they were going to dry out if we had many sunny days in a row.  They were simply not plantable.”

To plant or not to plant?  A tough decision for many farmers in 2013 (photo from nebraskacorn.org)

To plant or not to plant? A tough decision for many farmers in 2013 (photo from nebraskacorn.org)

 

Livestock producers weren’t the only ones who needed to produce grain.  Grain farmers who had forward contracted their crops owed bushels to their local elevators.  Farmers who had contracts with ethanol plants had to come up with bushels as well for the plants to use in their production.

 

June fields were very muddy, very sticky, and “it was very tough planting conditions,” according to Behnken.  As a result, southeast Minnesota farmers were still planting well into July.

 

An aphid explosion in August

 

“As the weather began to change, warming up in the third week of August, we saw soybean aphid populations explode,” said Behnken. “It’s probably the worst case I’ve seen, in terms of numbers and the speed at which populations grew.”

 

Soybean aphids (U of Mn Extension file photo)

Soybean aphids (U of Mn Extension file photo)

“If you weren’t out scouting your fields and following good IPM practices when you reach the threshold for spraying, you took a big yield hit.”  Soybeans were at least two stages behind normal growth rate, and that made the hit even worse.

 

Behnken was at a field day in early September when soybean damage was at it’s worst, and saw many bean fields that were literally black in color.  “Soybean aphids defecate excessive plant sap, called honeydew, that drips onto the lower leaves.  A black to gray mold may then colonize the honeydew, turning the surface of the leaf a dark gray.  In severe infestations, the field will take on a very dark cast.  The mold then covers the green areas of the leaf, interrupting photosynthesis, and reducing plant growth.”

 

Behnken said some farmers walked away from their fields when they saw this.  “Some farmers began to throw up their hands, understandably, and say to themselves, enough.”  Several farmers weren’t going to put any more money into their bean fields, especially since it was planted late to begin with, and they weren’t sure the returns would make up for the cost of producing the damaged crop.

 

Better harvest than expected

 

Harvest was a challenge as well.  The weather was cool, which led to “very poor drying conditions in the field,” said Behnken.  She called it a very nasty harvest season.  “It was going to be late, which we expected because we planted late.”  She offered silage as an example, which she said was chopped six weeks later than normal.

 

To exacerbate the poor drying conditions, southeast Minnesota farmers had to deal with a shortage of propane for their dryers.

 

“Our yields were…okay.  For most producers, we were pleasantly surprised that we came up with an average

Corn harvest (photo courtesy of indianagrain.com)

Corn harvest (photo courtesy of indianagrain.com)

yield,” said Behnken.  She estimated the average corn yield for the area at 150 bushels per acre, with extremes on either side of that number depending upon how much snow landed on each farm field.  “A few fields in the area did go over 200 bushels, but that was the exception.”

 

Many soybean yields came in at roughly 40 bushels per acre.  Between 40 and 55 bushels per acre is considered a pretty good year.  There were extremes as well, with “some farmers harvesting only 20 bushels per acre off their fields.  Overall, it was a modest harvest, definitely not a bin buster.”

 

Turn the calendar

 

Behnken said the Extension Service is encouraging farmers to turn the page to the New Year, but not to forget the lessons learned from a rough 2013.

 

“Let’s learn the positive lessons.  There’s going to be a weed seed bank out there.  There are going to be pest issues because some spraying last year simply didn’t get done in time.

 

“Did we do anything with our fields that would cause soil compaction issues as we get set for spring planting?”

 

She said farmers in the area did learn a lot about cover crops, which could be very beneficial to soil health in the years to come.

 

2013 was a legitimately bad year for most, and she said “it’s time to turn the page.”