Will heavy rain wash profits away?


Last week’s torrential rains have halted the harvest but crops still remain in mostly good to excellent condition, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Minnesota office.

That’s the almost-good news. What remains unknown is when fields will dry sufficiently to let farmers resume the harvest, and the condition of the crops when that occurs.

A long-delayed harvest will see diminishing returns for soybean farmers as beans are susceptible to dropping their pods if the plants are dead or were damaged from heavy rains and hail. There could be similar damage to corn yields as well, but the tall corn plants tend to be stronger than soybeans after the growing season.

Where Minnesota’s rural economy is really being threatened is from the moisture in the crops. And this didn’t start with Wednesday and Thursday’s rains.

Minnesota soils have been wetter than normal for most of the summer growing season. This moisture stays in the crops’ seeds and they must be dried for proper storage or for immediate marketing. Propane, or natural gas, is used to fuel drying equipment; costs for drying can wipe out farm profits from the big crops and thus reduce farm household income and purchasing power in rural communities.

It is too early to tell how this will play out in Minnesota. The NASS weekly crop-weather report Monday found only the Grand Marais area on the North Shore as having less than normal precipitation since the April 1 start of the now-ending growing season.

Field reports from key agricultural growing areas around the state show just how wet the soils are, and suggest how wet the crops are as well.

In southwestern Minnesota, Marshall is 16.62 inches above normal for precipitation this year, Pipestone is 15 inches above normal, and Lamberton is 10.85 inches above normal.

Elsewhere in southern Minnesota, Waseca is 13.02 inches above normal, Winona is 12.73 inches above normal, and Winnebago is 12.30 inches above normal.

In the belt across the central third of the state, above-normal precipitation since April 1 totals 11.79 inches at Willmar, 10.22 inches at Hutchinson, and 9.21 inches at Montevideo. Most other agricultural regions range from 3 inches to more than eight inches above normal.

The harvest will need to resume before more is known about the moisture content of the state’s huge corn and soybean crops. But as a general rule, wet fields lead to high-moisture crops and far more farm expenses.