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Published September 29, 2010, 10:51 AM

Flooding has crops out of reach in southern Minnesota

GRANADA, Minn. — Farmers in southern Minnesota are hoping their fields will dry quickly after last week’s heavy rain so they can resume their fall harvest.

By: Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio

GRANADA, Minn. — Farmers in southern Minnesota are hoping their fields will dry quickly after last week’s heavy rain so they can resume their fall harvest.

Officials are still calculating the damage, but some farmers are reporting heavy losses. Many fields are still flooded.

The heavy rain covered a large area of southern Minnesota, from west to east a nearly continuous band 260 miles long and 80 miles wide. That’s a big part of the state’s corn and soybean fields, crops worth about $8 billion.

Darwin Roberts, 66, is one of thousands of farmers who felt the effects of the storms. Looking out across his farmland off Highway 53 north of Granada, Roberts said the deluge might be the heaviest he’s ever seen.

“We just got done experiencing 10 to 13 and a half inches of rainfall in about a 30-hour period,” he said. “And of course we’ve had excessive flooding.”

The storm left lots of standing water in fields. In some low-lying places it’s covering even 7-foot-high corn stalks. In other spots the plants look fine, but water glistens between the rows when the sun lights it.

Rivers and small streams are still running high. Just a few hundred yards away, Elm Creek is out of its banks and has flooded part of his soybean field.

“We’re all kind of on edge, nervous, a little disappointed,” Roberts said. “We should be well into finishing our bean harvest. And now we can’t do nothing. Our fields are flooded.”

What makes the situation worse is that grain prices have been rising, making the now out of reach crops even more valuable. The extent of the flooding becomes more evident during an observation flight Roberts arranged.

As a student pilot and his instructor fly a Piper Arrow on a quick circle north of Fairmont in Martin County, Roberts gazed down on land he’s known all his life, suddenly transformed.

“Oh my golly sakes,” he said.

Even though it’s been several days since the downpour, ponds still dot many farm fields, like drops of water splashed on a table top. In others, dark stains show where the water once stood. In the wettest patches, Roberts said it will be a long time before the ground is firm enough to support heavy harvest machinery.

“We’re going to be unable to combine out here for probably three to four weeks,” he said. “In a lot of these we may have to wait for freeze-up.”

If farmers have to wait that long they may also run into heavy snow, which could set the harvest back even further.

In a soybean field, Roberts’ farming partner Ronnie Schultz said it wasn’t just heavy rain that damaged crops. He points out soybeans laying on the ground. Hail knocked the beans out of their pods.

“This is some of the worst right here,” Schultz said.

He said some farmers lost nearly all their crop.

Schultz estimates the hail has cut the number of bushels he’ll harvest by half. Before the storm hit, the soybean harvest was going well, with average to above-average yields, he said.

The hail also damaged corn. It knocked kernels of corn and even whole ears to the ground in spots. Standing water also is a problem. Farmers fear it will rot the corn stalks, causing plants to collapse to the ground where the combine cannot pick up the ears.

Officials with the U.S. Agriculture Department say farm fields in 30 Minnesota counties were affected by the heavy rain. They hope to have preliminary damage information by the end of the week.

Roberts said it feels like a bin-buster yield is slipping away. But standing on a highway near his home, Roberts said natural disasters are part of farming. Even one this bad.

“It’s an experience, probably once in a lifetime,” he said. “But what do you do? You take what the good Lord gives you and make do.”

Still, Roberts finds some humor in the flooding. He and his wife watched fish swim across this highway during the worst of it. Geese, he joked, love the high water. They can rest on the brand new ponds, then swim directly into the fields to eat the corn farmers won’t be able to harvest for weeks.

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