Farmers racing against the clock

Wet autumn delays harvest as winter weather nears

Photo by Jenny Kirk An area farmer gets ready to unload soybeans into an awaiting semi while combining on Saturday about three miles southeast of Marshall.

ST. PAUL — A wet autumn has some Minnesota farmers working against the clock as they deal with a delayed harvest amid approaching winter weather.

Harvesting soybeans and other crops in a soggy field can compact the soil, which may stunt the growth of crops in the next growing season, the Minnesota Public Radio reported.

“Compaction doesn’t go away when you pull the combine or the truck out of the field,” said Dave Nicolai, educator at the University of Minnesota Extension.

Compaction is why John Schafer, a farmer near Buffalo Lake, is holding off on harvesting soybeans. He said conditions have improved, but channels are still apparent from when he tried to harvest silage to feed his cattle.

“If you look over here, you can see what I was dealing with a couple days ago,” he said about his field. “It certainly is not ideal to be doing this, but when the cattle need feed, the cattle need feed.”

Farmers said they’re concerned that pushing the harvest too late can run the chance of snow. And even if crops get harvested before winter, farmers said there’s a chance soybeans and corn will be wet, causing mold and fungus to grow.

“It’s going to cost more money, and with low commodity prices, that just adds to the cost of production,” Nicolai said.

Jim Opdahl, who farms roughly 6 miles southwest of Minneota, just finished up harvesting his soybeans on Monday.

“I had 100 acres of bean out early — they were the early variety,” Opdahl said. “I got them out before the last big torrential rain we got. With all that rain, we had to wait on the late beans.”

In all, Opdahl harvested 480 acres of soybeans this year.

“We got a late start because of the wet and cold, but it’s going good now,” he said. “A lot of guys are well into beans — some are done with their beans. I just finished mine about an hour ago and I’m switching the combine over to do corn and will probably try that a little later this week.”

Opdahl noted that despite the later-than-normal start, he’s not getting too concerned about his corn crop at this point.

“The forecast the next 10 days is good,” Opdahl said. “It’ll all get done. It always does.”

The soybean harvest also seems to be in full swing now in the Tyler area, according to Joel Scheurs, who farms with his son-in-law and his son-in-law’s grandfather.

“We will be on the last farm in an hour,” Scheurs said. “Together, we’ll have harvested about 1,500 acres. The crop is good — above average — for what we’ve taken out so far. The field conditions are not too bad — some spots are still wet yet, but it’s just a few.”

Scheurs estimates that farmers are roughly two to three weeks behind schedule.

“That concerns me, but if we can get a good week in this coming week — and the weather forecast sounds really good — agriculture will flourish,” he said. “But it’s not that way all over. I talked with someone from the Westbrook area and that area had received about 10 inches of rain in the last month when we had roughly three to six inches of rain.”

Scheurs added that it seemed to be good size areas in Murray and Nobles counties that were hit hard with rain. As a board member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers, the American Soybean Association and the Lincoln County Corn and Soybean Growers Association, he gets a lot of feedback from farmers on a local, state and national level.

“The crop is looking pretty good, but it’s a little opposite of us in northern Minnesota, which is traditionally wet,” he said. “Most of that has been coming out ahead of schedule. And it other parts of the United States, it also seems to be good.”

While this week’s forecast looks good, farmers know snow is not too far off.

“Once we get soybeans out, then people can have a little sigh of relief,” Scheurs said. “Nobody wants to work in snow — it definitely doesn’t work to harvest soybeans in snow.”

Kenny Blumenfeld, a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the weather trend is toward heavier rains. He said climatologists are researching whether October’s rains are part of a changing pattern fueled by climate change.

“We have seen all the way back through the record in Minnesota episodes of heavy rainfall in October,” he said. “We know we’ve seen things like this in the past, and what we probably need to figure out is, is it actually changing or was this just a bad year.”