Southeast Minnesota crops healing from stretch of drought conditions

Crops in Southeast Minnesota including hay are seeing improvements from a month ago due to recent precipitation.

Klessig cover crops
Lance Klessig, a resource specialist for Winona County Soil & Water Conservation District, looks at corn while kneeling in cover crops in Lewiston, Minn. on July 9, 2021. (Noah Fish / Agweek)

Most drought -stressed crops in southeast Minnesota seeing the light at the end of the tunnel last month have been revived, according to area specialists.

Michael Cruse, University of Minnesota Extension educator based out of Fillmore County, said the conditions in southern Minnesota are unlike in the majority of the state.

"We're kind of different in our region than what we're looking at across the rest of the state," Cruse said on July 7. "In the past two or three weeks we caught a couple of good rains."

He said before that, the region was definitely facing a drought situation, but the recent rains which picked up at the start of July were enough to make a difference in plants.

"If you drive around the area you can really see it, especially in the corn," Cruse said of the improved crop conditions. "Everything kind of popped up to the same height."


Cruse said that even though most corn is at about the six-foot level by now in southern Minnesota — if not higher — progress is far from during an average year.

"We have definitely seen a bouncing back, but are we completely out of drought conditions? No," Cruse said.

Even though southern Minnesota has a ways to go when it comes to bettering conditions and yields, Cruse said farmers in the area are thankful things haven't been worse.

"Compare our area to other parts of the state, because they didn't have those rains two or three weeks ago," he said. "And so you see a lot more drought issues elsewhere that are kind of prolonged now."

Margo Warthesen, operator of Many Hands Garden, sells produce at the farmers market in Rochester. She and her husband have been farming land in Wabasha County since 1976.

Warthesen said despite the dryness this year, her organically grown vegetables are growing fast and they are growing well.

"I think that's because our soil is in good health," she said. "We're always feeding organic matter into the soil, and that means when you're short of rain, the little rain you get stays there, it doesn't run away."

Warthesen said they planted onions and potatoes on April 4-5, and then the drought set in.


"So then we just kind of waited for the rain, and we were pretty much dry all of June," Warthesen said. "Things seeded really well, and we got good germination because of those good soil conditions."

At the farmers market on July 10, Warthesen had an array of fresh produce she was selling as well as prairie flowers and even some maple syrup. On her farm she has more than 40 different products growing throughout the summer, she said.

"We're diversified enough that something's gotta work," she said.

Her husband, Jack, handles the hay crops on the farm. She said that in the first week of July, he was able to get up 60 round bales with no rain on it.

"It was the best hay weather we've had in 10 years," she said.

Lance Klessig, a resource specialist for Winona County Soil & Water Conservation District, said that crops in the southeast part of the state are doing much better but issues still remain.

"I think locally, we're doing pretty well," said Klessig on July 9. "I think we'll be OK, but we'll probably see some impacts of that dry spring, even if we do get rain every week or every other week."

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