BIRD ISLAND, Minnesota — Weather whipsaws are a part of farming, and this year has been a doozy, ranging from drought to excessive winds that have flattened sweetcorn they grow on commercial contracts
A trio of Muench brothers farm south of Bird Island, Minnesota. The Muench Brothers farm include Greg, 69, Robert, 67, and David, 64.
Together they farm about 2,200 acres The brothers raise corn, soybeans and sweet corn for both freezing and canning markets for Seneca Foods Corp., bound for a processing plant at Glencoe, Minnesota.
The Muenches have been growing commercial sweet corn contracts since the mid-1960s.
“Our father and uncles grew it,” David said. The family used to grow sweet peas, too, but quit that a few years ago.
Under their sweet corn contract, the company provides the seed and tells them when to plant it.
The Muench brothers provide the land and the “farming.”
The 2021 crop year had been “dry from day one,” Robert said, in an Aug. 24, 2021 interview, just after a wind and rain storm had come the day before. “We started planting our crop and we were struggling to find moisture for it to come up.”
They planted the sweet corn extra deep, about 3 inches, on June 29, 2021 — a relatively late planting. Dry conditions challenged the germination and emergence. The crop came up a little later, and they got about a half-inch of rain.
After that, they got no decent rains — maybe .2 of an inch here and there.
"The rain would go around us,” Robert said.
When the wind storm hit, the sweet corn was just putting on ears.
Sweet corn harvest in the region usually starts in late July. Seneca sends around a harvest crew. The Muenches heard early yields were generally good, but had fallen off lately.
‘Flattened sweet corn’
The 2-inch rain was welcome on Aug. 23, 2021, but the wind was not. It “flattened” a sweet corn field where hot weather had “pushed along” the corn growth.
“Looks pretty tough,” David said, giving an impromptu field tour to a passer-by.
The Muench brothers spoke of their farming in a gentle, supportive, back-and-forth.
“Ya, the wind come and flattened it down,” David said. "So I don’t know that ain’t too good. Ya, it usually comes up somewhat, but it’s got a kink in it.”
Added Robert: “Usually, if it’s blew like this, they gotta pick it one way, usually. The way it’s leaning, they gotta pick against it.”
The company ended up picking another of their blown-down fields on Sept. 4, and went one way on the field, picking it into their carts, rather than the typical "sidewind" fashion, of putting into trucks, similar to how sugarbeets are harvested. The field from the tour was yet to picked on Sept. 8 and had about two weeks before ripening.
Some other fields were harvested "crosswise," at a 90-degree angle, and others kitty-corner, a 45-degree angle, and one way. "It's tough when the sweet corn blows over. It's harder for the company to pick it, to harvest it," Robert said. "But the sweetcorn has been (yielding) good."
The Muenches couldn’t immediately speculate about the fate of the field, a short way from a hog enterprise and surrounded by fields of standing field corn, still standing after the wind.
They noted that sometimes Seneca is forced to “pass” fields in their normal course.
“It gets too ripe, and they gotta pass and go to the next field,” Robert said. If it is overripe, the company pays some, but there also might be a crop insurance payment.
The other crops were looking fairly good, despite everything. But it’s been hurt.
David estimated the brothers’ soybeans would run 25- to 30-bushels per acre. The field corn might yield 75 bushels per acre. Fields that are lower and more level might do better — up to 150 bushels per acre.
“But we’ve got kind of ‘roll-y’ ground,” Robert said, and David quickly agreed, but smiled as if to say, it’s good enough.