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Published October 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

Recent sunshine leads to harvest time

WORTHINGTON — With one rain delay after another keeping area farmers out of the fields, Gene “Pucky” Sandager thinks farmers should start putting names to these “monsoons” of rain and snow showers that have interrupted harvest — kind of like they assign names to tropical storms and hurricanes.

By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — With one rain delay after another keeping area farmers out of the fields, Gene “Pucky” Sandager thinks farmers should start putting names to these “monsoons” of rain and snow showers that have interrupted harvest — kind of like they assign names to tropical storms and hurricanes.

Maintaining a good sense of humor is critical, said the rural Hills farmer, just as the latest information on Minnesota’s crop harvest shows that nearly two-thirds of the state’s soybean crop is still in the field, along with more than 95 percent of the corn crop. Both crops are well behind the five-year average of 83 percent for soybeans and 31 percent for corn.

Sandager is in better shape than a lot of farmers in the region — he finished soybean harvest a couple of weeks ago, with the exception of a couple of acres that had to be replanted in a low spot.

“Most farmers didn’t get started because their beans were planted later, or if they did get started, they got about a quarter or half of it done,” said Sandager. A couple of guys were combining on Sunday in the Hills area, but the beans were pretty wet — measuring in the neighborhood of 17 percent moisture. Normal moisture content for beans at harvest is 13 percent.

A bit of corn harvest has been going on in southern Rock County, with moisture anywhere from 24 to 28 percent. Sandager said some farmers are having issues with corn standability, mostly due to a type of rootworm that attacked the brace roots of the corn stalk.

Fortunately Sandager hasn’t seen the problem in his own fields, but like everyone else, he’s anxious to get the corn crop out of the field. Hand samples he’d taken showed anywhere from 35 percent moisture down to 24 percent.

“It’s still early,” he said. “We’re optimist that we’re going to get huge waves of dry air. Our strategy is we’re going to sit and wait.”

While farmers’ thoughts on this harvest season range from optimism to depression, Sandager reminds his fellow crop producers that there is still time to get this crop in the bin.

“We’ve got the whole month of November,” he said. “Have a safe harvest and be happy. You’ve got to keep telling yourself and other farmers that ‘Hey, life isn’t that bad yet.’”

Bill Gordon of rural Worthington shares Sandager’s optimism about the harvest, even though his first day in the field was Monday afternoon. He’d planned to work well into the night and work as long as he can today until the forecasted showers move in.

“It will take us a good five days of running hard (to harvest the soybeans),” said Gordon from the field Monday. “If we had a week of good weather, there’d be no beans left in this area … but we’re not going to get those five days. I’ll go as late as I can to push these combines.”

Gordon said his soybeans were right around 16 percent moisture, and said that despite getting docked for the high moisture, they were going to take their crop into the elevator without drying them.

“At this late in the game, you’ve got to get them out,” he said.

As he drove his combine through the bean field, Gordon said the fields were somewhat sticky Monday — which will undoubtedly slow progress.

“The heads are pushing a little bit,” he added. “The moisture is in the stalk yet so we can’t combine super fast.”

Tim Hansberger, who went out to start harvesting soybeans at 2 p.m. Monday north of Worthington with his dad Steve, said that despite the rain and snow in recent weeks, the combines were maneuvering pretty well across the soil.

Hansberger said it was too soon to tell just how soybean yields would be this year.

“I think our yields are going to end up being pretty good, if we can get the weather to cooperate,” Hansberger said. Gordon, on the other hand, anticipated his yields would be in the neighborhood of 50 bushels per acre.

As for the corn crop, farmers are still seeing pretty high moisture levels — anywhere from 26 percent to 40 percent, said Gordon.

“That’s going to be pretty miserable,” he added. Sunday’s winds should have helped to reduce the moisture a bit, but there isn’t enough time to get it to the 18 percent to 20 percent that’s normal for moisture content.

With the high moisture, farmers will be running their grain dryers quite a bit this year. Gordon said that is going to increase the cost of this year’s crop and reduce the quality.

Lizabeth Stahl, University of Minnesota Extension Crops Specialist at Worthington’s Regional Center, said the high moisture levels in both corn and soybeans lead to concerns for drying and storage.

She said rains, followed by a short dry-down before the next round of showers leads to concerns about pod shattering in soybean fields. Pod shattering is when the pods take on too much water, swell up and shatter, dropping the beans to the ground.

“When that happens, there will definitely be some losses,” she said, adding that she has heard of some isolated instances already. “Hopefully we can get them out before the pods shatter.

“Even though the beans are wetter than we’d like them to be — wetter than we’re used to seeing — you want to get them out of the field.”

With the higher moisture soybeans this year, Stahl cautions farmers about storage. High moisture soybeans, those with a moisture level of 13 percent or greater, have a high potential for mold.

“For long-term storage, you want to get to 11 percent moisture,” she said.

In general, Stahl said farmers should also be concerned about compaction issues going into the wet fields. Compaction can lead to more long-term issues in crop production.

“Remember, that first path that you make is where 80 percent of the compaction happens,” she said. “If we can eliminate some of that wheel traffic, that’s going to help us out too.”

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