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For first time ever, Minnesota to lead U.S. in corn production

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EARLY OUT — It’s been an unusually early harvest for area farmers who, according to local agronomist Mark Bernard, should be thankful for another fruitful season. (Star Eagle photo by Rachel Rietsema)


By RACHEL RIETSEMA

Staff Writer

Here in our little neck of the woods, local agronomist Mark Bernard believes farmers should count their blessings, every single bushel.

“They could’ve had diddley squat like some other unfortunate areas of the country,” Bernard said. “If it had been a little hotter and a lot drier, it could’ve happened here too.”

So, what saved area crops? The soil moisture deficit we had coming out of last fall.

“There were certainly times when we could’ve used rain, but it was amazing how little the crop showed stress,” he said. “That’s a tribute to the moisture-holding capacity these soils have. We can typically hold 11-12 inches in the top 5 feet of soil.”

The August cool-down also contributed very much to producing the crops we did.

“Corn is a higher water-use crop and dries the ground out more for the next year’s crop,” he said. “Luckily, we received 6 inches of rain in May and another 6 in June or this corn crop would’ve been in deep trouble.”

Actually, for the first time ever, Minnesota will lead the nation in corn production.

“After seeing the devastation on this year’s Midwest Pro Farmer Crop Tour in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and parts of Iowa, I realized how good we have it or just how close we came to facing some of the same issues,” he said. “Across the border south of Austin in Iowa, I zeroed a corn field out. There was absolutely nothing worth harvesting with a combine in the area we sampled.”

According to Bernard, Illinois folks’ fields were the worst he had ever seen in his career to date. Iowans in general had nothing to write home about either.

“Average bushel per acre for this area on corn was likely in that 180 bushel/acre area,” he said. “There were fields as high as 210 while some fields went about 150.”

For soybeans, he concludes the average bushel per acre landed in the 50 area, with high ends reaching 65 and low range hitting 40.

“We gave up quite a few bushels/acre on later-harvested soybeans as they were too dry, leading to less moisture per bushel and additional shattering from the sickle and reel on the combine,” he said. “In some instances, there have been 5 to 6 bushels/acre of soybeans on the ground.”

Corn’s success served as “more of a pleasant surprise” than soybeans. Nonetheless, soybeans will add up to be just as lucrative once all the figures are taken into consideration.

“We saw an extremely high quality corn and large soybean size, both of which were unexpected by most,” he said. “Early on though, we had some issues in the season that made folks nervous, starting with some uneven emergence largely due to dry soils at planting, which shows on some of the latecomers’ ears.”

Many more factors contributed to farmers’ furrowed brows, including “hard pounding rains” that decreased development. These unforgiving rains also caused some major erosion in some areas.

“Then we had some high winds blowing soil that cut off corn in late May,” he said. “Some of the fields required replanting as a thunderstorm following the winds caused pathogens to be splashed up into the open wound left by the blowing soil.”

Couple all this with July and August’s dry conditions and it makes Bernard wonder how “we managed to pull of the crop we did.”

“The dry weather the past three months hastened maturity in the corn by causing it to cannibalize itself, as there was little moisture left prior to maturity,” he said. “The drying out in July wasn’t a complete negative either. The crops developed some wonderful root systems as a result and were really able to squeeze every drop of moisture they could out of these soils.”

Very few drops of rain also accounted for the lack of insect and disease problems experienced.

“The crowning touch that probably made this crop as good as it is in this area was the cooler August we had,” he said. “Just the way the season unfolded set us up for a successful harvest, starting with a surprise rainfall back in February that amounted to over an inch.”

Bernard continued, “Decent rainfall in April followed by rains in May and June essentially recharged our soils to capacity once again and really set the table for good things to come. While it was dry in July and August here, we didn’t experience the extreme temperatures that areas to the south did. We actually had fewer low temperatures above 70 degrees this July than we had in 2011.”

On the downside however, the dry weather caused the crops to dry rapidly, thereby creating some significant harvest losses.

“There were also some problems with spider mites, although they tended to be rather localized,” Bernard said. “Also we saw the appearance of large numbers of western corn rootworm beetles, which didn’t necessarily mean we had a problem this year. However, this may be a sign of things to come for next year.”

Some soybean pockets in particular seemed to have their own set of issues.

“These areas appeared to be prematurely shutting down back in late August,” he said. “Some were quick to blame gravel pockets and while there was some of that; diaporthe may have also contributed to some yield losses.”

In spite of all of that, farmers can’t help but remember all the pros, including the selling prices. Corn is currently around the $7 mark while soybeans are just shy of $15.

“Many contracts for corn were signed at $5 per bushel for corn last year so the overage has been sold at the higher price, cushioning any yield losses that were encountered,” Bernard said.

Last but not least, Bernard touches on the earliest harvest he can ever remember.

“A harvest this early in this latitude for corn and soybeans is unprecedented,” Bernard said. “Sure there have been years when a field here and there was mature getting the neighbors excited when it was harvested, but nothing this widespread.”

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