Rain brings relief to crops

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 8/23/00.

Rows of corn Farmers are calling the recent rain a million dollar shower. In areas of lighter soil, corn and soybeans were showing signs of stress, and some fields are already beyond help.

"The crops were getting thirsty," Ron Spanier, who farms north of Paynesville said. Spanier reported they received almost an inch of rain last week. "The rain was probably two weeks too late for crops planted on sand," he said.

Dallas Fenske, who farms west of town, received 1.6 inches of rain. "It was a nice slow rain that lasted," he said. Fenske felt the rain was too late for light soils. He has have some sandy spots where the yields are sure to be down, he added. Fenske irrigates 250 acres.

"It's amazing how a little rain can change a person's outlook," Fenske said. Gary Reeck, who also farms north of Paynesville, feels the rain will help the crops. "Our soil is heavy. Because of the lack of rain, we might see smaller ears of corn," he said. The crops are gone on sandy fields without irrigation, he added.

Spanier said the crops are looking excellent south of Paynesville, but to the north, the fields are drier. "We have heavy soil, so I feel we're doing pretty good," he added.

Farmers consider August a crucial month for making beans and corn. It is when the beans start to fill out the pods. The corn ears are just starting to dent, Spanier said. Any rain will help in this critical time.

Neal Jones, who farms south of Paynesville, received 1.6 inches of rain last week. "This rain will no doubt help the crops," he said. Many plants in his soybean fields are just starting to blossom and put pods on, Jones added.

Because of the dry field conditions, the soybeans will have less beans in the pods this year. Fenske said many pods will start out with three beans, but the third bean will dry up.

Jones didn't know if he would take a fourth crop of hay off the fields. "My silos are full and so is the hay barn. The rains came at the right time," he said.

Crops on the low ground have been doing well, but those on the high spots are wilting, Fenske said.

Where the cornfields are showing signs of stress, farmers are starting to chop corn for silage. Reeck said he expects to start chopping silage in a month or sooner depending on the weather.

Jones expects to start chopping silage about the third week in September. "The corn crop is behind last year's growth rate. With the heat and drought, the corn sits dormant," he said. Jones expects the recent rains will help the corn mature.

"Because of the drought, farmers can expect to see a reduction in corn yield and lighter test weight," Pat Kearney, Kandiyohi County extension director, said. He suggested when they start chopping silage to blend the wet with the dry stalks.

"We need more rain before it's all over. Each variety of corn will show stress differently," Kearney said.

"This was a timely rain as the corn is in the late milk stage," Fenske said. If it hadn't rained, he feels the test weight would have been low.

Spanier reported that his oats harvest produced 80 bushel per acre. Jones reported 92 bushels per acre for oats. "The best yield in years. We had good weather for oats. The grain was planted early," Jones said.

Kearney said the small grain harvest was the best in six years. "This year farmers will have a good crop yield but it will not be fantastic," Kearney added.

According to Dan Marten, extension crop specialist who serves the area, the small grain yields were good. The fields received regular showers in May and June, which served the crops well. Espescially troubling to farmers is the lthreat of ow commodity prices in addition to the potentially lower yields.

"I'd feel a lot better if the prices were higher," Spanier said. Corn prices are $1.20 per bushel, and soybeans are $4 or less.

Jones agreed with Spanier. The prices are the lowest in 50 years. At $1.20, corn prices are lower than last year. "The government loan prices will kick in this year," he added. When prices fall below $1.77, farmers can expect help from the government.

"We'd make more money from insurance if hail damaged our crops than if we harvest them," Spanier said.

Martin said the soybeans with brown leaf material won't contribute to the growth of the plant. The green leaves will respond to the rain and promote growth. How much growth will depend on the damage the plant suffered before the rain, Marten said.

Most of the cornfields are not bad off, Marten said. The only fields that won't make a crop are those not irrigated and planted in sand.

According to a 1986 extension publication, if corn is in the milk stage and has had four days of visible hot dry weather, the crop will lose 15 to 20 percent potential yield. "Some fields in the area have had eight to 12 days of wilt," Marten said.

Marten advised farmers with drought stressed corn to be concerned about nitrates in the corn. He suggested they send a sample to a lab to check the levels. It is less likely to be a concern where the corn has grown to a normal height and less yet where an ear has begun to form. Nitrate levels may be a problem where the corn is noticeably stunted, has little ear development, and ample nitrogen has been applied to the field, Marten added.

Usual nitrate levels in the corn are about .05 percent nitrate. Drought-stressed corn may have levels up to 10 times that amount. The highest concentration is found in the bottom 12 inches of the corn plant, he said.

For farmers wondering if they should take a fourth cutting of alfalfa, Marten suggested cutting the hay between now and Sept. 1 if it is blooming.

According to Marten, farmers should plan fall hay cuttings around Sept. 1. Late September is a bad time to cut hay. Alfalfa needs enough time to replenish its reserves, he said. The reserves serve as antifreeze and provide nutrients for spring growth.

Both extension men hope the frost will hold off until October, giving farmers a shorter growing seaon in the fall. "The old adage is that we could have frost 60 days after the first locust," Kearney said. That would be the end of next week, which would be disastrous, he added.

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