Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Dry soils are a concern

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 10/10/2012 1:11 PM

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ST. CLOUD, Minn. — There's plenty of activity in them thar fields.

Farmers are chopping silage, combining corn and soybeans, putting up high moisture corn, lifting sugar beets and starting fall tillage — all at the same time.

It's certainly dry enough, said Benton County Extension educator Dan Martens.

Although the growing season was dry, farmers are pleasantly surprised at yields.

Corn is averaging 150 bushels per acre, said Martens.

Craig Roerick, Stearns County Extension educator and Randy Pepin with Todd County Extension report similar averages in their areas. Soybeans are yielding around 40 to 50 bushels, but many fields have produced less.

"In some areas, it's been a bit more spotty," Martens said. "Some fields zeroed out by crop insurance because the crop didn't come through. Some spots had 10 to 20 to 30 bushels an acre. It just depends on the soil type and how much rain fell."

Quality has been good, but bean pods are smaller than normal, said regional Extension educator Doug Holen.

As farmers continue harvest, they are also checking out soil moisture, Roerick said. They ask people who are digging fence posts and basements how deep digging has gone to find moisture. Roerick experienced that recently when leveling a slope on the family's farm they dug down four feet before reaching moisture.

Jeff Strock has seen the same results in soil moisture readings at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton.

"We all thought about how dry it was last year," said the soil scientist.

Strock said soil moisture dropped significantly in 2011 from above average during January to July. It "dropped like a rock" from July 11 to December.

"We were hovering around three inches of available soil moisture at the end of the year," he said. "We came into this year planning to get more moisture."

Since the beginning of 2012, soil moisture has been 25 percent to 50 percent below average. Things looked up in June and July with some timely rains. But the rains stopped and now fields are in a deficit.

The dry conditions remind some of the drought cycle from 1987 to 1989.

"I am not predicting that we are in a another three-year cycle, but when we look at where we are at in soil moisture, our profile shows we need to fill that deficit."

Combine fires are a concern, said Holen. He urges farmers to make sure equipment is in good working condition.

If a bearing is squeaking, take care of it, Martens said. Any spark could cause a fire.

Some farmers have taken out fire insurance as they harvest the crop, Pepin said.

Farmers with alfalfa were able to get three cuttings from fields, county Extension educators report. Those fields may now have gone into dormancy due to dry conditions.

It's anyone's guess to how fields might recover over winter. But farmers and Extension staff alike say the success seen in many fields this year is due to improved genetics and better varieties to handle the stress.