Dry conditions lead to early northwest Minnesota wheat harvest
Wheat and other cereal crops are one to two weeks ahead of schedule in northwest Minnesota. Farmers on July 19, 2021, were evaluating whether fields are ready for pre-harvest desiccants, and the combines are likely to roll in the next week or two, said Josh Erbes, a crop consultant with Centrol of Twin Valley (Minn.), in the 2021 Agweek Cereal Crop Tour.
BORUP, Minn. — Wheat farmers in northwest Minnesota on July 19, 2021, were evaluating fields for using pre-harvest Roundup to even maturity, and harvest is knocking at the door, according to one crop consultant.
“By next week I think the combines will be rolling through the small grain,” said Josh Erbes, a crop consultant who works for Centrol of Twin Valley (Minn.). “We’re kind of on a dividing line. As you go north things are drier, probably more in a little dire shape. As you go south, they’ve caught more rains, probably closer to an average crop.”
Erbes, whose territory is Norman County, northern Clay County and northwest Becker County, visited with Agweek for the 2021 Agweek Cereal Tour. Centrol is a significant crop consulting company in the region, with 35 crop consultants and just as many full-time support staff. (A separate company, Centrol of Marshall (Minn.) has a common heritage but is separate.)
This is Erbes’ 12th cropping season in this territory. Erbes graduated in 2007 with a crop and weed science degree from North Dakota State University and did some scouting for Centrol prior to graduation. He supplies general services including weekly crop scouting. That leads to post-harvest soil sampling and crop planning — fertility, variety selection and crop rotation.
Farmers started seeded wheat early this season — some in late March. (His clients have almost no barley and a bit of rye on marginal acres.)
“Probably close to 50% was in (seeded) before the first week of April, and then we received some rainfall that led to snowfall,” he said. “There was about a three-week break in there.”
They resumed cereal crop planting in late April. Most were in by the first week of May.
Some reseeding was done because of the cold and snow. Grains seeded after the snowfall had spotty germination because of dryness.
Erbes said the crop appears about the same whether planted later, or a month earlier.
“It kind of comes down to soil types — you get some of the lighter soils are really showing the drought stress. Old (last year’s) sugarbeet ground is a little more drought-stressed, but you take those variables out — for what we’ve been given for rainfall — I think we’ve got close to an average crop coming.”
Average rainfall in this area is about 16 inches and as of July 19 was less than 5 inches.
“I would say we’re still living off of the fall of 2019 that was extremely wet in this area,” he said. Last year’s rainfall was close to average but there were still many prevented-planting fields because of carryover moisture.
“Small grains and other crops on those (2020 prevented-planting) acres shining a little bit” in 2021. A “typical average” wheat yield for this area ranges from 60 bushels per acre to 70 bushels per acre, Erbes said. “We’ll probably be 10 bushel off of that this year, would be our guess right now.”
Protein content typically is better in a drier year. There should be no problem with “falling numbers” issues, associated with wetter crops and delayed harvest.
Farmers will apply Roundup as a harvest aid to “even up the crop,” often to complete the cycle for green wheat in the dough stage.
“We’ve got some green tillers and better areas of the field with a little more moisture that are holding some ‘green,’ so just to even that crop up so it harvests easier, stores better. In some cases there’s some weed control needed to get some things cleaned up, dried down, to go through through the combine,” he said.
There was some uneven emergence for late-planted crops in the dry soils.
Wheat color indicates whether wheat could be sprayed with a desiccant to begin harvest or needs a few more days. A simple squeeze of the kernel indicates how much moisture is left in the kernel. Kernels with too much “milk” and not enough “dough” are not ready. The milky fluid turns to starch, making “hard dough” and safe to desiccate. The grain is all made until the moisture moves out to a harvestable level.