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Curt Stark, a farmer from Kensington, Minn., stands in front of one of his field of soybeans on Wednesday, July 12, 2017. Nick Nelson/Agweek

Not desperate, but ... Rain needed in west-central MN

KENSINGTON, Minn. — Curt Stark knows his crops, and those of his neighbors, won't be as good this year as they were in 2016. He just hopes the 2017 crop won't be too much of a drop-off from a year ago, when he was among the many Minnesota farmers enjoying record yields.

"What we had last year — we know this year's not going to measure up to that," he says. "But we still have a chance for an above-average, or at least average, crop this year. We need to start catching some rains, though, for that to happen."

On a recent swing through west-central Minnesota, Agweek visited Stark's farm near Kensington, Minn., population about 300. The town may be best known for the Kensington Runestone, which some people say is a record left behind by Scandinavian explorers in 1362. The stone's authenticity is the subject of often-fierce debate.

Corn and soybeans, along with a little spring wheat, are the dominant rotational crops in the Kensington area. A few farmers occasionally try other crops, including dry edible beans.

Planting this spring generally went well in the Kensington area, though it was completed a little later than a year ago. Stark expects corn to begin tasseling 10 days to two weeks after Agweek's visit; that would be about a week later than in 2016.

Stark, like other farmers in west-central Minnesota, realize and appreciate that they've avoided the drought that's hammering many of their peers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

Even so, he and other farmers in his area need rain.

"We've just missed out on most of the rains lately," he says.

Though precipitation hasn't passed them by completely, the new moisture has been too limited to do much good for Stark's crops. For example, on the morning of Agweek's visit, about .10 of an inch fell during the night — enough to perk up the soybeans temporarily, but too little for any lasting benefit.

Stark expects to begin harvesting wheat in early August.

It's an axiom in Upper Midwest agriculture that what's good for wheat in August is bad for soybeans, and vice versa. Dry conditions in the month help wheat harvest but hamper soybean development, while regular shots of rain give growing beans needed moisture but work against harvesting wheat.

Stark nods when asked about that. "I have a lot more beans than wheat. So I'll take the rain anytime," he says with a smile.

His final word on mid-July crop conditions in his area:

"Overall, it's holding up pretty well. But it's going to go down quickly if we don't get some rain," he says.

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