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Late-planted corn looks like a winner in northwest Minnesota

While farmer John Swanson's biggest fear is cold, the biggest need for his corn crop in northwest Minnesota is heat to bring the crop to maturity. After the late planting of 2022, the growing season has mostly cooperated, he said on the Agweek Crop Tour.

Corn Tour still 2.jpg
John Swanson of Mentor, Minnesota, checks an ear of corn on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022. The corn crop is still behind schedule but he is optimistic for an above-average yield.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
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MENTOR, Minn. — It was late May when John Swanson and his son were trying to finish up planting, working late at night in wet fields they had been waiting to dry out during the unusually cool, wet spring of 2022.

“The chances of making corn are getting slim,” Swanson remembers thinking.

They decided to opt for federal prevented planting coverage on about 150 acres.

“The way it looks right now, corn may still have been a reasonably good choice but at that date, it was questionable whether that was a good choice or not,” Swanson said on Monday, Aug. 29, a day after nice rain had fallen in northwest Minnesota.

The way it looks right now to Swanson, he’s looking at a better than average crop and the region is looking at a huge rebound from the 2021 drought year.

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Corn Tour still 4.jpg
Corn on the John Swanson farm near Mentor in northwest Minnesota was entering the dent stage on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

But that delayed planting means the crop is behind schedule, just reaching the dent stage in late August. As far north as his farm is, it is still at risk to frost or a freeze.

According to records kept at the Northwest Experimental Station at nearby Crookston, the chance for a frost starts creeping in as early as Sept. 13, and the chance of a freeze, temps dipping to 28 degrees Fahrenheit, would begin on Sept. 23.

“Those would be problematic if we have either of those occurring,” said Swanson, who has been farming in Polk County since 1971. He spent much of his ag career focused on sunflowers and switched some of his acres from corn to sunflowers, which can withstand below freezing temps late in the growing season better than corn or soybeans can.

While his biggest fear is cold, the biggest need is heat to bring the crop to maturity. After the late planting, the growing season has mostly cooperated, though he does have some areas where damage will take a toll on yield.

“It’s been pushed along with some pretty good heat units,” Swanson said. “I think we caught up about two weeks.”

Farmer holding an ear of corn looking at a sliding yield calculator.
John Swanson consults a yield calculator on Aug. 29, after examining a ear of corn taken from one of his fields near Mentor, Minnesota. Just based on the one cob, it showed an estimated yield of about 170 bushels per acre.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

And when looking ahead at the weather forecast he was optimistic about the crop’s chances.

“We need some heat, warm days and warm nights, and that's what the forecast is saying,” said Swanson, who also serves on the board of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

More optimism

Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota Extension corn agronomist, says that, in general, Minnesota’s late planted corn crop will need all of September to reach its potential, which would be an average to above-average crop.

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“I’m pretty optimistic about it,” Coulter said in a phone interview.

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Coulter said it was warm and dry around pollination time in the state, which may have reduced kernel counts.

Coulter said that a general guideline is that corn reaches maturity about 60 days after silking, which this year took place from July 20-25.

He said in some areas of the state, rains have been “a little on the late side.”

Some drought areas remain in the Twin Cities metropolitan area area parts of west-central Minnesota.

Irrigated acres

There are no worries about drought for Swanson, who farms with his son, John David Swanson.

The farm has a well that feeds three irrigation pivots. That meant that during the drought of 2021 he was able to produce 220 bushel corn when his non-irrigated acres were a bust — some acres harvested just for feed.

A view of a cornfield from a tower at one end of an irrigation pivot.
John Swanson has three irrigation pivots that he uses on his farm near Mentor, Minnesota, in Polk County.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

With the late start, the irrigated acres won’t match last year but the non-irrigated acres should produce a good crop, as should most of northwest Minnesota.

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The rains over the last weekend of August should help.

“It was really, really needed, because it was just running out of water,” Swanson said.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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