Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Well-timed rains produced good crops

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:12 PM

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CROOKSTON, Minn. — Jim Stordahl can't recall a growing season that has been so dry, yet produced such good yields.

The Extension educator in northwest Minnesota said corn averaged 125 to 140 bushels and soybeans around 40 bushels. Wheat also had good yields.

He credits two timely rains. One rain came at a crucial time for wheat. A three inch soaker made the beans and corn.

"The past 12 months have seen little precipitation," he said. "In fact, we've had less than half of the normal rainfall."

Stordahl said the area's last significant rainfall happened in September 2011.

It will take a lot of moisture to get the soil profile back to normal.

While the amount of moisture in the subsoil varies throughout the region, generally there is little moisture from the surface to five-feet deep, said Northwest Research and Outreach Center soil scientist Albert Sims.

He credits conservation tillage and improved plant genetics for the yields despite dry conditions. Farmers should consider leaving surface residue as a way to capture snow and retain soil moisture.

"When that raindrop hits the residue on the surface, it disperses the energy of the drop and increases the moisture infiltration in the field," Sims said.

There could be a drawback to leaving residue, he said. If there is a wet spring, the ground won't dry out as fast.

"We are in a tough situation right now," he said. "We have very low moisture reserves in our soils. In order to maintain production next year, we will need timely rains throughout the growing season."

While yields and commodity prices have been good for grain, it hasn't been a positive for livestock producers. Hay is in short supply and pastures dried up.

"We always have this tug and pull between livestock and crops," he said. "This year that division is greater than normal. Many livestock farmers have had to reduce their herds. First they culled those animals who needed to get out of the herd, but many have had to go deeper than that. It's at the point where it's hurting."

Stordahl is getting calls from farmers about extending feed supplies, he said. They've discussed everything form putting molasses on straw to baling soybean stubble and corn stalks.

"In this area, many use beet pulp a a supplemental feed," he said. "But this year, there won't be enough to go around. It's a tough year for the livestock folks.''