September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

The waiting game

Wet conditions keep producers out of the fields

By Jennifer Burggraff

Staff writer


ROYALTON, Minn. – Farmers across the state and surrounding areas have been waiting … and waiting … and waiting to get in their fields.

Cool, wet conditions throughout the spring months have kept producers indoors instead of working the ground and planting.

For Royalton, Minn., dairy producer Roger Lanners, the wait finally came to an end on May 3, when he planted the first of his 400 acres of corn. This start was 17 days later than last year.

Lanners is not the only one to get a late start on fieldwork. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) weekly crop reports, crop progress throughout the state was lagging as compared to last year and the five-year average.

As of May 9, 28 percent of Minnesota’s corn was planted. Last year, producers had 93 percent of their corn planted, with the five-year average at 65 percent. 

“Last year was the earliest I’ve ever been able to plant corn,” Lanners said. “Things went well, and we could finish [one farm before moving to the next].”

Lanners raises corn and alfalfa on approximately 600 acres of owned and rented land in the Royalton area, along with milking 350 cows. His wife, Julie, and two of their children – Ryan and Tracy – also help full time on the farm.

Lanners said he typically starts planting between April 4 and April 16. This year, he wasn’t able to get into the fields at all until April 18, when he hauled manure. 

“The field conditions are still wet,” he said. “We have sandy loam here, and the corn we did plant was on sand. The fields have been very selective.”

That’s a stark contrast to last year, when weather allowed fieldwork – hauling manure, tillage and planting – to progress smoothly. This year, along with the late start planting, Lanners said there is still a lot of manure to be hauled out.

“We can’t do what we did last year,” he said. “Last year was perfect.”

On May 5, Lanners said he would like to be planting alfalfa by the week of May 9, with hopes of completing planting by mid-May. All this would be contingent on the weather, he said.

According to the USDA NASS weekly crop report, only two percent of soybeans was planted by May 9, as compared to the five-year average of 18 percent and last year’s 37 percent. Last year, 98 percent of Minnesota’s oat crop was planted by May 9; this year, 37 percent has been planted. The five-year average for oats is 77 percent planted.

The NASS report showed similar results for spring wheat and barley. This year, 18 percent of the state’s spring wheat crop has been planted. By the second week of May last year, 98 percent had been planted, and the five-year average showed 60 percent planted. For barley, the five-year average has 58 percent planted, but only nine percent had been planted by May 9 this year.

The delayed fieldwork is not reserved to Minnesota producers alone. Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin have all experienced similar planting conditions this spring – conditions that have led to very delayed planting.

A short break in the cool, wet weather allowed Minnesota producers to hit fieldwork hard during the week of May 2, with an average of 3.6 days suitable for fieldwork, although topsoil moisture remained at 60 percent adequate and 40 percent surplus. The four weeks of April and the first week of May averaged only 0.58 days suitable for fieldwork. Temperatures during that same time frame ranged from 3.3 degrees below normal to 7.1 degrees below normal, though a warm spell during the week of April 4 did bring above-average temperatures. 

“It’s just been colder and wetter this spring,” Lanners said.

He’s hoping this spring’s normal will not become the ‘new normal,’ and that warmer, drier weather will allow him to get the seed that remains stacked in bags in his shed planted in his fields as quickly as possible, bringing the next Minnesota NASS crop report closer to 100 percent planted. 

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