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Soil temps prevent southeast Minnesota farmers from April planting

The planting progress for Minnesota farmers as of April 24 was the lowest since 2013, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Rob Tate forceast checking.jpg
Rob Tate, who raises corn, soybeans and a few head of beef cattle in Cannon Falls, checks the 10-day forecast on his phone on April 26, 2022, in Cannon Falls, Minnesota.
Noah Fish / Agweek

CANNON FALLS, Minn. ― Last year, Rob Tate finished planting corn before the end of April. But like almost all Minnesota farmers this year, he's waiting on the chance to start.

Farmers in the state had just 0.3 days suitable for fieldwork during the week ending April 24, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Aside from oats, all crops remained at 0% planted. The planting progress as of April 24 is the lowest since 2013.

Tate, who raises corn, soybeans and a few head of beef cattle in Cannon Falls, is also a crop insurance agent for Crop Revenue Consultants. What he remembers about 2013 is that it was the worst level of prevented planting in his 25 years on the job.

"So far, we haven't done any planting," said Tate, who serves as a board member of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, on April 26.

He said it's been a cold and damp spring, which has left the soil unprepared for planting in late April.

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"Soils are a little sticky, and some of the heavier soils are several days away from being dry enough to get into," he said. "I also farm some ground that is sandier, and some of that sandy soil is probably more suitable to get into sooner than later, but with the soil temps being as cold as they are, it's probably no hurry at this point."

Tate said that after the spring thaw, it hasn't warmed up enough to dry the soil out.

"It's not that it's saturated, it's just not warming up enough to the point where the soils are getting to where you can even work them, or consider planting them," he said. "That's the biggest challenge. It's just so cold."

Last year, Tate began planting corn on April 22 and finished by the end of the month. He said soybeans were planted relatively quickly thereafter.

"Ideally, I'd like to be planting right now," said Tate.

His routine of planting soybeans after corn is something he plans to stick with, for now.

"I know some guys are are pushing the envelope a little bit to try to get beans in earlier because there is a definite yield advantages from what they're seeing," said Tate.

Filling the time

On a Tuesday afternoon with the sun shining through his shop windows but temperatures only in the mid-30s, Tate was doing some work on his planter.

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"Just making sure that's ready to go, so when the window of opportunity opens up to be able to get something done, we can go without having to be waiting on any sort of maintenance issues," he said.

Now that he'll be planting in May, the daily planting schedule will be different than the past two previous years when he was able to get crops in during April.

"You probably aren't going to work a short day — you're going to work as long as you can to get it in as quick as you can," said Tate. "It's out of our control at this point, and we have to just wait for the conditions to be fit. We want to make sure that we do everything we can to get as good of a crop as we can."

Enhanced perspective

Selling crop insurance for two and a half decades, Tate said that most of his customers are local, and a lot of them are his friends.

"Generally I don't sell anything that I wouldn't buy myself," he said. "I utilize that risk management tool right along with them, so I understand how it applies to their operations because I understand how it works for mine."

He said he spends the most time with customers in the winter and when it's time to report acres and yields.

"My window to do a little bit of farming is in the spring and in the fall, for planting season and harvest season, because my customers are busy as well," said Tate.

Based on what he knows on the production side of farming, Tate said he's got a good handle on where in the area there's going to be losses. He has clients in the counties of Dakota, Goodhue, Dodge and Olmsted, but most are within 50 miles of where he farms. He said there's quite a bit of diversity of soils within that area.

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"As you go north of Cannon Falls it's lighter soils, and you'll see a lot more irrigation," he said. "And up in those areas where they don't have irrigation, last year was a little bit more stressed with the drier conditions."

South and east of Cannon Falls, Tate said soils get to be a lot heavier.

"They generally have more issues with too much water, and they have to have more drain tile in place," he said. "And so it can be a tale of two crops within a short distance, where you get some areas that do really well because the growing conditions, and others that don't do so well."

Related Topics: MINNESOTACROPSAGRICULTURE
Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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