Weather pushes farmers' buttons, but not the panic one

Not much has happened so far this spring in the rich farmland surrounding New Ulm: No plowing, no planting. Some farmers have dug into the soil to find nothing but bad news.

"There's still some frost in the ground," said crop consultant Steve Commerford.

April has been so cold and snowy that more than two feet of frost remain in the soil in parts of southern Minnesota. The forecast of another foot of snow in parts of the state this weekend only compounds the dismal weather outlook for spring planting.

"There's certainly anxiety that occurs out there when we don't have an early spring," Commerford said.

But weather conditions can turn on a dime, and there's still plenty of time for farmers to have a productive year, he said. Farmers have seen spring planting delays before, and they're accustomed to waiting for improved weather. But the state's ideal corn planting window is the last week in April and the first few days of May. With no warm-up in sight, April may see very little field work.

"The wet and the snow that we're experiencing this week will probably put us well into the month of May," said Dave Nicolai, a crops educator with the University of Minnesota Extension.

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But that doesn't necessarily mean a poor crop is already guaranteed. Nicolai said the general rule for the state's two biggest cash crops — corn and soybeans — is that the seed needs to be in the ground by mid-May for good yields.

And abundant yields may be necessary this year to keep some farmers in business, since crop farmers have seen five straight years of low or non-existent profits. An analysis of some 2,300 Minnesota farms by the state college system and the University of Minnesota shows that nearly a third of Minnesota farmers lost net worth last year.

But the bad weather this spring makes it more uncertain whether the harvest will be large enough to overcome poor prices.

"That definitely is a concern," said Nicolai.