Minnesota crop outlook not as gloomy as expected

Chad Smith

Fillmore and Houston County Extension Agent Michael Cruse took in his first Farmfest this year. That meant traveling through southern Minnesota to get to Morgan, Minn., where the event takes place every August. One thing he noticed is things aren’t quite as “gloom-and-doom” as he first thought when it comes to Minnesota agriculture.

“We’ve got a lot of variability in farm fields because of the spring weather,” Cruse said. “However, things looked much better than I expected. Things looked a lot greener and there was more consistency across fields than I thought there might be. But we are going to see some variability from field to field, there’s no question.

“The warmer weather has definitely helped our crops progress,” Cruse said. “Having said that, we are still at risk for having frost issues this fall, just because we are still behind in development. Any sort of early frost could stick us with seriously wet corn, which will increase drying costs and hurt the bottom line. As I was driving across the bottom of the state, I remember thinking that while we won’t have a bin buster, we aren’t going to have zero crops either.”

Cruse said he was among many around agriculture who were terribly worried about yields or total crop failure this fall. While it’s not going to be a great harvest, Cruse said it could be much, much worse. “I don’t think we’re going to do as well as we have over the last three to four years,” he said. “With that said, you have to remember that the last few years were excellent and we had major yields. We’re definitely not going to do that well, but we also won’t wind up with nothing at all to put into our bins around here.”

Driving to Farmfest and back home again, Cruse noticed several signs of variability in different farm fields. “What was easiest to see is changes in color and plant height,” he said. “In some of those spots that didn’t dry up enough, the plants are going to lose nitrogen and turn yellow. Most fields were deep green in color with some yellow mixed in as well.

“Those yellow spots are also going to be lower than the green plants because they didn’t grow as much,” Cruse added. “Color and plant height are going to be the key indicators of plant variability this year.

“We’re probably a good two weeks behind where we should be. We might be getting there as far as reproduction, but what you see now in the corn is some of it isn’t as tall as it normally is. The stalks aren’t generating as much photosynthetic activity as they normally do. While some of the stages are catching up, what we’re seeing now is a general loss of growth.”

Soybean issues that farmers are dealing with right now include more weeds than normal, as well as soybean aphids.  “It’s getting to the point now that farmers aren’t allowed by the label to use herbicides anymore,” Cruse said. “It depends on what each farmer has available and what stage the soybeans are in. We’re also getting into some aphids and trying to manage those as well.

“The aphid numbers that have been passed down to me aren’t at the threshold yet. A group out of Rochester is going around and doing some scouting for aphids. While the numbers they’re seeing are still low, those numbers are increasing. We’re not at threshold yet but maybe moving in that direction.”

The improvement in his optimism about the corn and soybean harvest doesn’t apply to the alfalfa. Again, it goes right back to the late start to the spring. “I’m not as optimistic about having enough forage to make it through the upcoming winter. That slow start to this haying season cut down on the amount of forage we were able to put up, be it in bales or haylage.”