Excess rain in northwest Minnesota is too much of a good thing

One of the joys of agriculture is receiving the right amount of rain at the right time. One of the frustrations is getting too much. Farmers and ranchers in Minnesota's Polk County have known both the good and bad this month. A mid-May swing thro...

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One of the joys of agriculture is receiving the right amount of rain at the right time. One of the frustrations is getting too much. Farmers and ranchers in Minnesota's Polk County have known both the good and bad this month.

A mid-May swing through the county, in northwest Minnesota, found that a recent stretch of rain, though welcome initially, lasted too long. Farmers and ranchers received as much as 4 inches in a 10-day rainy stretch: the first 2 to 2½ inches helped recharge dry fields and pastures, but moisture above that delayed planting and threatened drown-out in parts of some fields.

"We needed rain. We just got a little too much," says David Olson, manager of the McIntosh, Minn., location of Fosston Tri-Coop, which handles grain, seed, feed, chemicals, fertilizer, custom application and petroleum.


On the day of the visit, he and other agriculturalists in the county were primarily concerned with forecasts that overnight temperatures would fall into the mid 20s. Temperatures that low would have hurt many fields, particularly ones with soybeans that have emerged.

But the mercury in northwest Minnesota didn't drop nearly as far as feared, and damage to crops appeared limited.

Wheat and soybeans dominate eastern Polk County. Those two, along with sugar beets and corn, are common in western Polk County. A number of other crops, including barley, canola and sunflowers, are grown across the county, too.

Polk County farmers, as is the case with many of their counterparts across the Upper Midwest, are planting less corn this spring because of poor prices for the crop.

Though planting in Polk County was shut down, or virtually so, during the long rainy stretch, the outlook for getting the new crop in the ground remains bright. Planting was off to a terrific start before the long rain delay, and there's still plenty of time to get in what's left, primarily soybeans.

'Very dry' no more

MCINTOSH, Minn. -- Before the recent rains, "We were dry. Very dry," Olson says. "So we were really looking for moisture" -- just not the 3½ inches that his area received.


"But what are you going to do about it? You can't stop it," he says.

He talks with Agweek after being outdoors helping unload a truck. It's a shockingly cold afternoon in which the mercury barely tops freezing and flecks of snow twist in a howling wind.

"It's a little chilly out there today," he says with a smile.

Most farmers in his area stick closely to a wheat-soybean rotation. Because late April and the first half of May brought favorable planting conditions, their wheat and a good share of their soybeans were in the ground early.

Soybeans can be planted safely later than most other crops, so plenty of time remains to get them in, Olson says.

Farmers in his area were hoping to return to their fields late last week, with just four or five days of planting left, he says. "That would put us into late May (to be done with planting), and that's OK."

Olson, who's been involved with agriculture since 1982, primarily in McIntosh and nearby Fosston, Minn., has seen his share of springs, some better than others.

His assessment of this one?


"It's a long way to go (until harvest)," he says. "But we're off to a pretty good start."

Farm kid turned banker

ERSKINE, Minn. -- John Syvertson was a North Dakota farm kid, so agriculture was a big part of his life.

Now, he's executive vice president of American State Bank-Erskine Branch, and ag remains important to him. Ag is crucial in his trade area -- and to his bank.

Even after the recent delay, planting is off to a strong start.

"There are some soybeans left. But I think we'll be OK," he says.

Slumping crop prices have affected farmers' cash flows, especially that of producers who rent much or most of their land, he says, noting rental rates have soared.


But farmers who own most of their land are still doing well, he says.

Extension service officials and other neutral experts stress that farmers and ranchers need to work closely with their lenders when times are tough financially.

Because crop prices were strong, farmers "have been having really good years and they haven't needed banks as much. So now that times are just getting a little tough, it's an opportunity for us to be more helpful to these farmers," Syvertson says.

"We provide a different pair of eyes looking at the numbers and finding what solutions we can (provide) to make their farm more profitable," he says.

On the front lines

CROOKSTON, Minn. -- Justin Spivey -- manager of Crookston Valley Cooperative, which handles seed, fertilizer and chemicals -- is on the front lines again this planting season.

"We were dry to start with. So this (the rainy stretch) really helped us," he says.


Rainfall totals in his trade area vary greatly, with some farmers receiving too much, others getting the right amount and a few with a bit less than they would have liked, he says.

In any case, the planting delay isn't a concern.

"Most of our crop is in the ground," he says. "We're in the stretch run now."

In contrast, planting in the late, wet spring of 2014 didn't begin in earnest until the middle of May, he notes.

Corn acres in the Crookston area definitely are down, he says. His independent, single-location cooperative, which has been in business since 1979,  sold less corn seed this spring than it has for five years.

Syvertson is optimistic about this year's crop. Still, some cooperation from the weather in the second half of May would help, he says.

"No frost. No more rain. And a little sun sure would be nice," he says.


Jonathan Knutson is a staff writer for Agweek. To subscribe to the weekly agriculture magazine, call (800) 811-2580 or email .

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