Minnesota farmers hit the fields

Farm Forum

May 9 – Extra moisture from late winter weather has kept state farmers indoors as planting season arrives. In Otter Tail County, Minn., however, the spring production is looking to be better than the rest of the state.

“It’s late, but everything is drying up now,” said Paul Dubbels, a manager in the agronomy department at New Horizons Ag Services. “If it were drizzly and cold right now I might not be so optimistic.”

Across the state, late snowstorms and cold weather have added moisture to areas that already had a considerable amount in the soil. That has made for troublesome work conditions as farmers look to prepare for planting. According to the Associated Press, only 1.3 days across the state were rated suitable for fieldwork for the week ending on May 4. The average is 3.2.

Corn planting was only 2 percent complete as well, which is almost 50 percent behind the five-year average. The USDA also said that livestock producers have expressed concerns about the slow growth of alfalfa and pastures.

According to Dubbels, however, farmers in the Otter Tail County area should be running full time by May 11. Currently, planting is only a week or two behind schedule, and farmers should be caught up within a week to 10 days.

Tim Schonhardt, manager at the Farmers Elevator of Fergus Falls, gave a similar estimate and said planting is, at most, three weeks behind the average. These days, according to Schonhardt, slow starts aren’t as worrisome as they used to be because of the equipment used for planting.

“With the large size of equipment, it doesn’t take too long to catch up,” Schonhardt said. “It’s all a matter of what Mother Nature throws at us now.”

Schonhardt said the elevator is currently busy cleaning seed for planting — a sure sign that spring has finally come and farmers are out working.

The reason for the difference with the rest of the state is the county’s sandy soil, which doesn’t retain as much moisture. Last year’s dry summer and fall also attributed to current conditions that have kept fields manageable.

“Here, we went into the winter with very dry ground,” Dubbels said. “The last two years we’ve had exceptionally dry harvests, and that’s not typical either.”

Dubbels also said that corn may have a bit more moisture than usual at the end of the summer, but it is too early to tell if factors like mold will affect the harvest.

While last fall’s dry soil might have saved area farmers from having too much moisture in the ground this spring, more water might prove necessary in the coming months.

“Our biggest concern right now is subsoil moisture,” Dubbels said. “Actually, we’re going to need more rain this summer.”