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Published June 23, 2014, 09:50 AM

More rain ends planting

The last thing farmers in Minnesota’s Becker and Mahnomen counties wanted was more rain.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The last thing farmers in Minnesota’s Becker and Mahnomen counties wanted was more rain.

They got it anyway.

An Agweek trip through the two counties on June 16 found that rains of 3 to 4 inches, which fell over the two previous days on already soggy fields, had ended planting in the area, agriculturalists say.

“This will be the end of it, I think,” says Mitch Hoekstra, sales agronomist with ProAg Service & Insurance in Mahnomen.

Estimates vary, but at least 10 percent of the cropland in the two counties hadn’t been planted when Agweek visited, agriculturalists say.

There had been hopes that many of the remaining fields could be planted during the week of June 16. But the mid-June rains almost certainly will rule that out, Hoekstra says.

Clouds and sprinkles on June 16 exacerbated the problem. The amount of additional moisture was modest, but the conditions prevented wet fields from beginning to dry — an important consideration when the planting window has almost closed.

The planting season in Becker and Mahnomen counties had been difficult even before the rains. A cool, late spring followed by frequent rains — most of northwest Minnesota had above-average precipitation in the second half of May and first of June, according to the Minnesota office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service — delayed and hampered efforts to get the crop in.

One last push during the week of June 16 would have allowed many farmers to finish planting or come close to finishing. But by the time unplanted fields dry out after the mid-June rains, it almost certainly will be too late to plant safely, area agriculturalists say.

Becker and Mahnomen counties are sometimes described as “prairie wetlands” — mostly flat ground dotted with sloughs, shrubs and trees. Several crops, including wheat, sugar beets and sunflowers, are grown in the area, but a corn-soybean rotation is dominant.

Mid-June is too late to plant corn safely. Until the recent rains, however, soybeans and, to a lesser extent, sunflowers were still candidates for last-minute planting.

By all accounts, slumping corn prices and the difficult planting season will cause farmers in the two counties to plant less corn and more soybeans and wheat. It’s too soon to say how big the acreage changes will be, people who talked with Agweek say.

Despite the planting season’s difficulties and frustrations, farmers in Becker and Mahnomen still have reason to be optimistic about this year’s crop:

Late-planted fields, though less advanced than they should be, generally look good, officials say.

Here’s a look at three northwest Minnesota agriculturalists’ observations on this growing season.

Wet pockets are a problem

MAHNOMEN, Minn. — The window of Hoekstra’s office, on the edge of town, looks out on a field of corn. On the day of Agweek’s visit, the field held pools of standing water and the plants were less advanced than ideal. But the plants were a vibrant, healthy green and stood out vividly from the black, soggy soil beneath them.

The field won’t be harvested for months and much could go wrong before then. For now, though, the field holds the potential of good yields.

The same is true for many fields in the Mahnomen area, Hoekstra says.

“But there are pockets that are wetter. It (crop conditions) depends on if you’re in one of the pockets,” he says.

The fields in the Mahnomen area generally have good drainage, which helps, he says.

Corn still a key player

BEJOU, Minn. — One of the biggest questions in northwest Minnesota agriculture is the extent to which farmers there will cut back on corn acreage this spring.

Corn has moved steadily into northwest Minnesota, as new faster-maturing varieties make the crop feasible for farmers in the area.

By all accounts, lower corn prices and the late, wet spring have combined to reduce corn acreage this year, with many farmers planting more soybeans this spring.

Mark Benson, sales agronomist with West Central Ag Services, also says less corn was planted this spring, though he’s uncertain how much.

But whatever the size of the decline, corn remains a crucial part of northwest Minnesota, he says.

“Yeah, there won’t be as much (corn) as last year. But when you look at what it (corn production) was a few years ago, you see how important it’s become,” Benson says.

For instance, Mahnomen County produced 7.9 million bushels of corn in 2012, double the 3.9 million bushels in 2007.

What will fall bring?

CALLAWAY, Minn. — For the second straight year, farmers in the Callaway area suffered through a wet planting season, which the mid-June rains brought to an unofficial end, says Jason Starkey, station manager-country operations for CHS in Callaway,

“This pretty much finishes it,” he says.

Crops, though not as advanced as farmers would like, generally look good, he says.

Now, like other agriculturalists in the area, Starkey knows the late-planted crops will receive additional time to reach maturity.

“We’re going to need good weather this fall,” he says.

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