Harvest: Good and bad

Retired farmer Jaynard Johnson, 73, helps out a friend by tilling fields after a harvest Thursday in Lansing.

With much of Mower County suffering from drought, some area farmers started the harvest this week worried they'll bring in a poor crop.

But they got some help on Friday, when a disaster declaration was issued for the drought-afflicted area, meaning farmers there are now eligible for emergency loan assistance from the Farm Service Agency to help cover crop or livestock losses.

Among the 23 counties that are part of the primary disaster area are Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston and Mower. An additional 23 were labeled contiguous disaster counties, and they include Dodge, Olmsted and Winona.

Tim Chicos, location supervisor for Northern Country Co-op in Lansing, said the yields in that area will vary depending on farms' locations, because the rain was really spotty this summer.

"The last decent rain we had in this area was like the third week in June," Chicos said, so some crops haven't done well.


Last year, most farmers in the area got 140 to 190 bushels per acre, but early reports are that this year's crop won't be as good, Chicos said.

Already, he's heard of corn yields as low 8 bushels an acre, and as high as 112, he said, although many of the best fields haven't been harvested yet.

One key is how many farmers have federal crop insurance, which will cover losses.

"Some carry it, but some don't," he said.

Better to the north

Farmers in Olmsted, Wabasha and Dodge counties were in better shape, as they've received more rain.

"We're so fortunate here; things look really good," said Plainview farmer Michael Zabel, who intends to start his harvest soon. "I'm ashamed to say how good things look here compared to so many other areas that have really been hurt. We're expecting a pretty decent yield."

However, Zabel added that the heat and relative lack of rain may have caused some damage; it's difficult to know how good the yield is until the harvest begins. He has harvested the corn silage, and it appears to be at least as good — if not better — than last year.


"Some parts of the field will be very, very good," Zabel said.

This year Minnesota corn farmers are expected to get an average of 156 bushels per acre, the same as last year and better than all the other major corn-producing states, according to United States Department of Agriculture projections released this week.

The summer's drought has seared much of the heartland, and many corn-rich states have low projected yields: Iowa is only at 140 bushels per acre, Kansas at 91, Illinois at 110, Nebraska at 145 and Wisconsin at 130.

All over the map

But this year, there's plenty of variation in yields throughout southeastern Minnesota.

Rainfall has been sporadic and highly localized at times. Crops in soils that don't hold moisture have suffered.

"Even on some sandy ground around Rochester, and on ground near shelf rock, you can get down to yields less than 50 bushels per acre," said Fritz Breitenbach, an Integrated Pest Management Specialist, for the University of Minnesota Extension in Rochester.

But other places in the region have received timely rainfall, and those with better soil will be pushing 230 bushels an acre, he said.


"It's just crazy," Breitenbach said.

The harvest is definitely coming early, as crops have been running two or three weeks ahead of normal all season, Breitenbach said. As of Sunday, corn and soybeans were 2 percent harvested; usually none is harvested at this time of year.

However, the heat and the relative lack of rain may have damaged some crops, he said. 

As of Tuesday, 44 percent of Minnesota was classified as in drought, up 5.1 percent from last week, according to the latest drought monitor released Thursday. Drought has hit parts of Mower, Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties, while the rest of southeastern Minnesota is classified as abnormally dry.

Still, statewide projections remain decent. Overall, Minnesota farmers are expected to harvest 7 percent more corn than last year, or 1.29 billion bushels. The main reason for the increase is Minnesota farmers planted 7 percent more acres of corn than in 2011.

Minnesota's soybean harvest is forecast at 263 million bushels, down 3 percent from last year.


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