Record rain dampens harvest

Corn waiting for harvest stands in several inches of water in this flooded field northeast of Minot. Record September rainfall has kept producers out of many fields this fall. Kim Fundingsland/MDN

Heavy September rainfall has put a damper on the harvest season for many area producers. Many fields, or large portions of them, have simply been too wet for combines to roll. Worse yet, the extremely wet conditions have resulted in some crops sprouting in the field.

“Much of the small grains and canola have sprouted. That causes some real marketing issues,” said Eric Eriksmoen, research agronomist at the North Central Research and Extension Center south of Minot. “Malting barley that has sprouted is basically removed from the malting market. Then you are left with feed along with most other small grains that are sprouted.”

“I’ve never seen a harvest where the weather pretty much lost the crop and I’ve been working here since 1985,” said Carl Zeltinger, Renville Elevator Company, Tolly. “There’s water everywhere.”

Some estimates place the amount of crop remaining in the fields in Renville County at 30-50 percent.

“There’s a heck of a chunk out there,” agreed Zeltinger. “And it’s going bad. Pretty much all of the wheat and durum is sprouted. You can’t make bread flour out of it anymore.”

The September rain in the region started falling on Labor Day with a record 1.42 inches recorded in Minot. The old mark was a mere .52 inches. The month was well on its way to becoming the wettest in recorded history. Through Sept. 29 the total rainfall for the month recorded at the Minot International Airport was 7.49 inches, easily beating the old record of 6.11 inches set in 1971.

Rainfall for the year through Sept. 29, and it was raining again on the 30th, was 20.05 inches. While Sept. began with 2.62 inches below normal precipitation for the year, it was 4.24 inches over the 114 year average by the 30th.

“It’s a really tough time for a lot of farmers right now,” said Eriksmoen. “The year went backwards on us. We could have used all this moisture back in May or June. It’s the other way around. It’s not good at all.”

Zeltinger said the historically wet September has also damped the spirits of many. Rain gauges have shown as much as 10 inches of rain has fallen in September in some areas.

“The farmers are pretty much down in the dumps,” said Zeltinger. “Soybeans, sunflowers and corn, the late crops, probably have a chance but that could end up being a disaster too.”

Eriksmoen estimated many fields in the Minot region needed a week or more of dry and sunny weather before farmers would be able to get into them with heavy equipment. Most of the soybeans, said Eriksmoen, should be maturing and, barring more rainfall, should be okay for harvest. Sunflowers and corn remain in the fields but are usually among the last crops to come off.

“The sunflowers and corn look pretty decent as long as we can stay away from real strong wind,” said Ericksmoen. “The sunflowers have great big heads on them this year. Big, bulky heads in the wind just don’t stand up.”

The ground is so soggy in areas of Renville County that tall crops, sunflowers and corn, are vulnerable to high winds. There are already areas where plants have tipped over, their roots unable to hang onto excessively wet and muddy ground.

Some crops that were harvested before fields became entirely too wet to do so required the use of drying equipment, a process which increases costs for the producer.

“It’s a management issue,” stated Eriksmoen. “How do you lose the least amount of money? Farmers want to provide a quality product to their buyers but they are doing it at a loss to their bottom line if they are drying. Some would be storing and hoping for a better market. That’s probably the right way to do it.”


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