ROCHESTER, Minn. ― Lisa Behnken, Extension educator on crop production with the University of Minnesota Extension, said that for small grains in southeast Minnesota, it was a solid start to the growing season.
"Planting season was great, and we finally got in early which is very important for small grains," she said.
She said small grains start germination and growth earlier than corn and soybean crops and need a cool growing season.
On the 40-acre research site that the University of Minnesota Extension staff manages on the outskirts of Rochester, a number of different crop trials are done, some of which are crops of barley and oat varieties.
"The trials we're doing here in southeast Minnesota are trying to find better varieties that produce what the farmers need and get them a crop they can market at a high value," Behnken said.
Behnken said there's a lot of interest by farmers in southeast Minnesota in adding small grains to their crop rotations. That's good for a number of reasons, she said, but farmers need to think it over before they jump in.
"It comes down to economics — we need to have a market for it, and a place to sell that crop," she said of small grains. "Whether it be the grain or the straw — which in some cases tends to have a pretty good value where there aren't as many small grains."
Behnken said that farmers and Extension agents in the region have a better handle on diseases due to the varieties they are picking to grow. She said there are good and predictive models that are used across the region, especially for the fungal disease fusarium head blight, or scab.
"Through that, you can monitor what's happening with the development of the disease and then time your use of fungicides to prevent that disease from taking its toll on the yield," Behnken said.
Crown rust is the most prevalent disease to impact oats in southeast Minnesota, she said.
"It's a disease we always face because we have buckthorn that overwinters the crown rust," she said. "We also get crown rust that blows in on our southerly winds that can impact those varieties."
But she said the timely use of a fungicide will "really benefit oat crops in both yield, test weight and good quality straw that comes from it."
"It is a total management package — scout your fields, monitor for diseases and if you have something that could be a problem, we do have fungicides that can help assist that crop yield," she said.
Behnken said at the point small grain crops are at in mid-July, 90-degree temperature days are a hazard to the grain-fill stage.
"Those high temperatures at the wrong time will impact that grain yield overall," Behnken said.
Southeast Minnesota saw a number of these days in July, with more forecast in the near future.
"What we're concerned about is that maybe these high-end yields that we were hopeful for — we've probably lost bushels off the top with some of that high temperature," she said. "We may lose some test weight on some of these yields as well."
Another concern and one that Behnken said people have been calling about lately is escaped weeds in fields. Weeds create a bit of a harvest problem, she said, as farmers have green patches of weeds at the time they are ready to harvest.
"Farmers have to think, how do I manage those weeds — either swath the grain and let it dry, or wait a bit," she said. "In those cases, you can lose yield either way."
Always a worry at this time in the summer is storms that roll through from humid temperatures. Fortunately, southeast Minnesota has been spared from the heavy storms that hit some northern parts of the state.
She said storms at this point, especially storms with hail, would bring the biggest devastation to small grain crops.