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'We could really use a good rain': Warroad, Minn., area needs moisture

Combines for Parsley Farms harvest malting barley near Warroad, Minn. on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service1 / 6
Workers from Parsley Farms harvest malting barley in a combine near Warroad, Minn., on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service2 / 6
Rows of barley sway in the breeze near Warroad, Minn., on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service3 / 6
Rows of barley bask in the summer sun near Warroad, Minn., on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service4 / 6
Barley chaff shoots out the back of a Parsley Farms combine near Warroad, Minn., on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service5 / 6
Farmer Drew Parsley detailed the dry conditions he has experienced in the Warroad, Minn., area recently as he harvested malting barley on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service6 / 6

WARROAD, Minn. — One of the worst things in Upper Midwest agriculture is watching once-promising crops deteriorate day by day because they're not getting needed rains.

That's what Drew Parsley, a Warroad farmer, has been doing the past few weeks.

"I don't think we've had more than 2 inches total on much of the farm; maybe some fields have gotten 3 inches. It's been especially hard on the soybeans. They had been looking so good, and now they're really struggling," he says.

Agweek visited with Parsley, who was combining malt barley late in the afternoon of an early August day. Dark clouds to the west held promise of rain, but Parsley said later in a telephone interview the clouds produced no moisture. A half-inch of rain fell two days later; Parsley said that moisture helped, but only briefly.

Farming isn't something that most people think of when hear about Warroad. The town of 1,800 is in north-central Minnesota near the Canadian border. It's known for its strong hockey tradition (Warroad bills itself as Hockeytown USA), as the home of Marvin Windows (one of Minnesota's largest privately owned companies) and its proximity to Lake of the Woods (the sixth-largest freshwater lake located at least partly in the United States.)

But farming is more important in the Warroad area than many people realize, Parsley says.

"We're where the farmland and the lakes and the woods all kind of come of together. It's the end of the farmland going east, if you will," he said.

Soybeans, spring wheat and barley are top crops in Roseau County, in which Warroad is located. But turfgrass seed, used primarily for lawns and golf courses, also is a major crop there.

The Portland, Ore., area, along with areas around Warroad and Roseau, Minn. (to the west of Warroad) dominate U.S. production of ryegrass seed, Parsley noted.

"I bet most people don't realize the seed for their lawn probably came from Portland or Warroad or Roseau, he said.

Parsley, 38, has been farming for 20 years. He grows turfgrass seed, malt barley, dry beans and soybeans. His soybeans are both commodity and food-grade; some of the latter are exported to southeast Asia.

He's also raising some wheat this year. Like many other area barley growers, Parsley wasn't able to secure contracts for all the barley that he otherwise would have planted, so he put in wheat instead. Bountiful barley crops in recent years pushed up barley stocks, reducing the amount of 2018-crop barley that buyers wanted.

The barley field that Parsley was harvesting during Agweek's visit held up exceptionally well during dry conditions this summer. Parsley said the field yielded about 100 bushels per acre, which is well above average.

The field has been drain-tiled, which caused plant roots "to go deeper, earlier (to better utilize subsoil moisture.) Honestly, I think our deep root structure is why our crops have held in there as well as they have," he said.

"But even though we're getting a good yield, I truly think that if we'd gotten more rain and cooler temperatures, our yields would have been even better," he said.

His wheat, like the barley, looks good.

But the ryegrass was hurt by unusually high temperatures and produced what Parsley calls a "very average" crop.

The edible beans and soybeans are hanging in the balance.

"The soybeans are at the stage where an 1½ inches of rain would just do wonders. They're starting to shrivel, we're losing pods. If we can just get over the hump (by getting a needed rain), we could still get a bumper soybean crop. We've already lost the top end of our soybean yields, though," he said.

"Our best crops typically are in the dry years. But there gets to be a point where it's too dry, and that's where we're getting now," he said.

"We could really use a good rain."