Northwest Minn. cereals see serious rain impacts

There are areas of excellent yields in northwest Minnesota, but a big swath will see wheat, barley yields cut by drown-outs and quality issues.

ARGYLE, Minn. — The 2020 cereal grain crop offers a year of extremes in the Argyle, Minn., area.

Scott Edgar, owner of North Star Ag Services Inc., a crop consulting company at Warren, Minn.

Edgar, 62, started the business in 1988 and runs it with three consultants, handling up to 70 clients in Minnesota and North Dakota. He’s transitioning the business to his son, Jacob Edgar, and a consultant, Adam Bernhardson.

A wheat crop that was not in the heaviest rain west of Argyle, Minn., will yield well, aided by sub-surface field drainage. Photo taken July 20, 2020, west of Argyle, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Giving a field tour for the Agweek Cereal Crop Tour, Edgar said farms were wet early, went through a nice dry stretch, but then since June 15 have been hammered with rain every three or four days — up to 8 inches after heading. Some areas are good, but many farmers who were anticipating a 65-plus bushel crop yields will get little or nothing. Quality will suffer because it was tough to physically spray or justify it economically.


“Not enough acres left in the fields,” he said. Harvest may wait until late August.

Small grains just south of Argyle will deliver a good average crop, but large areas to the north and west are seeing 20% to 70% drown-out for the crops, he said.

Scott Edgar STILL .jpg
Scott Edgar, owner of North Star Ag Services Inc., a crop consulting company at Warren, Minn. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

“You just can’t come back from having that much wheat gone,” Edgar said.

Edgar said the large area of damaged wheat stretches into North Dakota.

“We have wheat that died as it emerged because it was planted late and got heavy rains, and water backed up on the fields,” he said.

"Areas drowned later were disgusting, because these guys had put all of the inputs into it, they had nice wheat, and now all the wheat’s gone," he added.

A common yield in some of the wetter fields will be in the 40-bushel average range. Farmers will have to take care of weeds because they have herbicide resistance issues with waterhemp, kochia and ragweed.


200 pounds N

A wheat crop that was not in the heaviest rain will yield well, aided by sub-surface field drainage. Photo taken July 20, 2020, west of Argyle, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Wheat acres in the area were up in 2020, as farmers pondered low soybean market prices. If nothing else, the wheat would help some beet growers get fields ready for 2021.

But wheat planting that started early April 15 stretched late to June 10. Farmers around here often pick Westbred varieties — 9479, 9530, and a lot of (SY) Valda. "There are some Linkert fields, and some farmers raise (WB-)Mayville, which is a little too susceptible to fusarium head blight, or scab, for this kind of year," he said.

Farmers shoot for 80- to 85-bushel-per-acre wheat yields, but fields fertilized for high-protein wheat can produce 90-bushel wheat.

"That’s a nice wheat yield and you can overcome protein premiums with 90-bushel (yields)," Edgar said. The 9479 and Linkert varieties have pretty good protein.

“We’ve ended up, basically fertilizing our wheat acres the same as we do our corn acres,” Edgar said. His clients fertilize to 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre, which can produce 13.5% protein wheat. The goal is not so much to achieve protein premiums but avoid discounts, and at the same time get higher yields.

This year they fertilized more in-season than ever. A number of wheat fields had been unharvested sugar beet fields from 2019. On these, they put on 100 pounds of nitrogen and then another 100 pounds of nitrogen in-season.

In past years with unharvested beets, farmers noticed a nitrogen deficiency for the following crops other than soybeans. The unharvested sugar beets tend to “tie up” the nitrogen in the soil, making it unavailable for the following crop.


Fields that are tile-drained will have obvious advantages this year. “Since 2016, even with satellite images, you can look at the fields and just pick out the drain-tiled ones,” Edgar said.

From good to disaster
This field of barley west of Argyle, Minn., has received 5 inches more than average rainfall this summer and is in relatively good shape. Fields to the north and west received another 7 to 8 inches of rain and are far worse off. Photo taken July 20, 2020, west of Argyle, Minn. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Northwest Minnesota barley acres were down in the area. Farmers around here commonly plant Genesis or Explore varieties. Farmers have found Genesis has an issue with staying too green at harvest, and with lodging, Edgar said. “Some of the fields we spray Palisade, which will stunt the node growth in the barley and make it shorter,” Edgar said. “That works fairly well.”

One barley field west of Argyle had come up unevenly because of early dryness. There was a bit of scab (fusarium head blight) and glume blotch, but largely it was good.

“This area is about 5 inches above average rainfall for this time of year,” he said, of the particular field. “Right to the north and west of us is about 10 inches to 12 inches above-normal — disaster.” A recent storm severely destroyed farm grain elevators and seriously damaged a commercial grain elevator in Argyle.

This part of Minnesota has transitioned to two-row barley from the traditional six-row barley. The malting industry has demanded the two-row because it yields more beer. But one advantage for malting is that the barley sprouts more easily, which can be a problem in the field when farmers face wet conditions.

If fields are knocked down with storms, and they stay wet, it becomes very difficult to control sprouting in two-row barley. Some farmers have gone back to swathing barley, instead of straight-cut combining. “But now with the wetness, it’s going to be tough to swath,” he said.

“Yields have stayed fairly well,” Edgar said. “Hundred-bushel barley is a nice yield in this area. You can get a little more, and you can get a lot of 80-bushel barley (yields). It just depends on the year.”


Farmers in this area typically use Tilt fungicide for early season disease control. Fungicide application was difficult this year because of uneven barley head development. Edgar’s clients used an insecticide to take care of armyworms. Even after spraying, he’s finding up to one armyworm per square foot, which is about 50% of the economic threshold.

“Where we’ve used the insecticide with the fungicide, basically we’re sitting with low levels of armyworms,” he said. “There were people with barley east of Warren that had to respray armyworms when they didn’t spray a fungicide.”

Grasshoppers have survived, regardless of the excessive rains. “Yet some of our worst areas are our wettest areas,” he said.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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