Wet weather worries Minnesota farmers

Flood waters swamp fields
This soybean field was submerged in flood water in 2008.
Scott Olson | Getty Images file

The rainy weather has slowed the pace of the Minnesota harvest. The soybean harvest has been hardest hit, falling behind schedule. The wet weather could also damage crops still in the field.

Minnesota farmers like to harvest their soybeans first, because that crop is most susceptible to damage if it's not picked quickly enough. If left in the field too long the pods on the plant can actually pop open and the beans inside may fall to the ground. But for many farmers including Michael Wojahn in southwest Minnesota, the wet conditions have prevented any work on the delicate crop.

"We have not been able to start the soybean harvest," said Wojahn. "None of our soybeans have matured to the point that they're ready for harvest."

So instead of going after the beans, Wojahn has used the few drier days suitable for harvesting to pick some corn. He says he's harvested about 20 percent of that crop.

"I've been really pleased with the corn yields," said Wojahn.

Some fields have produced an above average harvest of as much as 200 bushels of corn an acre. But the wet weather has prevented the corn kernels from drying in the field. It could rot if it's stored that way. So Wojahn is forced to dry the corn with propane gas before it goes into the bin. That means extra work and cost in a harvest where too much rain already is causing plenty of worry.

That's affecting farmers well-being. Northfield area crop consultant Jim Gill says they're hoping for a break in the bad weather.

"It's a very nerve-wracking time of year right now with this delayed harvest," said Gill.

A big concern is the health of the crops in the field. Soybeans are susceptible to mold during constantly wet conditions. Corn too. Gill says corn also can suffer structural problems that can cause the plant to fall to the ground.

"The corn crop now at this point has started to get a lot of stalk rot," said Gill. "Which was promoted by a humid, humid, wet late August and September. So the viability of the corn stalks right now is starting to diminish daily."

More than 10 inches of rain have fallen in the last six weeks in parts of the state, increasing the pace of the crop deterioration. And there's been plenty of wind to knock over the plants. Gill says the rash of thunderstorms in southeast Minnesota a few weeks ago that included tornadoes brought down a lot of corn stalks.

But the toppled corn plants aren't the only thing falling, grain prices have also tumbled over the last year. There's too much grain worldwide, pushing prices down. And the trade war has hurt the value of crops, especially soybeans. It's enough to make Southwest Minnesota farmer Michael Wojahn groan.

"Prices are abysmal," said Wojahn.

That means many farmers will harvest what they can this year at a loss. But better days may be ahead, at least on the weather front. Extended forecasts call for dryer conditions next week. South Central College agriculture dean Brad Schloesser says if that happens, farmers will harvest non-stop.

"When it does dry out, we're able to put an awful lot of harvest activity underway," said Schloesser. "And see that crop get harvested and put into storage very rapidly."

That rapid pace is crucial because winter is not far away. Deep snow will stop harvesting activity, increasing the likelihood of crop losses.