Minnesota yield prospects fade with drought-stricken crop

Expectations for Minnesota corn and soybean crop yields are likely to continue slipping as drought intensifies in the state.

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Minnesota crop conditions have been sliding throughout the season as a result of the expanding drought.

As of Aug. 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Progress report indicated only 35% of the state’s corn crop and only 29% of the soybeans were rated good to excellent. The poor conditions were reflected in the August World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates Report, as USDA only pegged corn yields at 166 bushels per acre, which is down from 192 bushels per acre last year. Statewide soybean yields were also down at only 44 bushels per acre.

Many say the drought mirrors the 2008 drought year. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows parts of Minnesota ranging from no drought, the best category, to exceptional drought, the worst, as of the Aug. 12 report. As of that report, more than 95% of the state was in severe drought or worse.

"It’s going to vary from some areas being very severe to some areas being a little bit more mild in terms of drought," said Dave Nicolai, University of Minnesota Extension crops educator. "But for a lot of growers a drought is a drought.”

Farmers in the northwest portion of the state are the driest, with a strip of exceptional drought running through the state. Mike Skaug, who farms near Beltrami in northwest Minnesota, said his county hit extreme drought. As of Aug. 12, part of Polk County was in exceptional drought.


“On my farm we’ve really only had one inch of measurable precipitation accumulative from the end of April when we got done planting until now,” he said.

Southwestern Minnesota is nearly as dry, and the heat has also been a factor. Lake Benton farmer Bob Worth said that hurt the corn.

MN Drought 2.jpg
Corn that may look good from the road in Minnesota actually has far smaller than normal cobs, farmers say. Michelle Rook / Agweek

“From the road it looks good, but you walk out in the crop, corn especially, it’s really disappointing. Corn didn’t pollinate very good and if there is a pollinated ear it's extremely small, it's only like 20 rows long so it’s going to be a really short crop,” he said.

Some corn has already been cut for silage in those areas, and in the rest, yields will be trimmed substantially. Joel Schreurs of Tyler said the corn is barely holding on and quickly losing potential.

“If we don’t get significant moisture in the next few days the yield could be less than half,” he said.

“Last year, which was a phenomenal year, we had 190-bushel corn," said Tom Haag of Eden Prairie. "We’re hoping for maybe 120. But if we don’t get a rain right now, we could be less than 100 because we’ll just get more tip back.”

He said the good genetics are keeping the crop viable, but it is on borrowed time.


“We are thankful that we were wet going into last fall, so we used up an awful lot of that subsoil moisture to keep our crops looking as good as they are right now,” he said.

Kernel depth is also shallow and so test weights may also be down according to Schreurs.

“What I have looked at doesn’t look too bad as far as the fill, but again it’s going to take moisture to fill those kernels out,” he said.

Soybean yields could be improved if some areas receive rain the next couple of weeks, but in many other places it may be too late, as the beans are short, with fewer pods.

“So if it stays dry, they’re going to abort them also, you know suck them up," Worth said. "So, I’m guessing if everything went right it would be 20 bushel beans max. If it doesn’t rain anymore, we could be down to 5 bushel beans.”

“You know it’s really hard to predict but I think we’re probably maybe going to have half of what we typically do if we’re not going to have a rain in August pretty soon,” Skaug said.

And the other yield drag will come from insect pressure such as grasshoppers and spider mites.

Really the only garden spot is in the southeast.


“As you move to the east, it's progressively better," said Kent Beadle, with CHS Hedging in St. Paul, Minnesota. “By the time you get to the Wisconsin border they have the potential for some bumper crops.”

He said the southeast has had some timely rains.

“And whether or not those ears end up filling out well or poorly is going to really determine where this Minnesota yield is at,” he said.

Even with trendline yields in the southeast, however, that may not be enough to make up for losses in the rest of the state, and that means lower statewide yields.

“Overall I think we could easily be down you know 20% on the corn crop across the state of Minnesota and probably in that area of at least 15% on the soybeans,” Nicolai said.

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