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Farmers: corn crop needs more heat, rain

Published 11:23am Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Farmers: corn crop needs more heat, rain

By Rian Bosse

Daily Journal

As summer starts its final weeks, a plague of cooler days has farmers in the county worried. Dry soil has made matters worse.

“It’s great for grilling and having fun, and certainly there haven’t been many mosquitoes,” said Charles Piekarski, who grows corn and soybeans west of Fergus Falls. “But you go north, south, east and west, everybody is concerned with farming right now.”

From this time in August to the first half of October when the harvest usually takes place, the area would need around 35 days averaging 70 degree nights and 80 degree days, according to Piekarski. Even with warmer weather in the forecast, that much heat with the addition of enough rain might not make its way into the area.

“We’re in a little bit of trouble,” Piekarski said. “This is going to be a catchy one.”

But even with enough sun and warm weather to encourage growth, the lack of water will continue to keep the corn yield low. Piekarski said the corn has started to “fire up,” which means the bottom leaves are wilting as the plant wants to make a cob but doesn’t have enough water.

Since he’s been in the field this season, his crops have received around 12 inches of rain. Farmers will usually get around 16 to 17 inches by this time. While he uses on an irrigation system, it’s not enough to rely on.

“There are cracks in the ground you can’t believe,” Piekarski said. “The corn wants to grow, but there simply isn’t enough water.”

Around the rest of the state, cooler weather has meant farmers have not needed as much water to get their crops growing. After a late spring full of wet, cold weather delayed planting, the rest of the state’s farmers have caught up. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that the state’s harvest will be the second largest in its history, according to the Star Tribune.

In Otter Tail County, however, there hasn’t been enough water to fully recover from the spring. Piekarski said he is uncertain what that will mean for the final crop, but the weather in the next few weeks will be a deciding factor.

“To think about a yield is just hard, but without rain it’s certainly going to go down,” Piekarski said. “The next six weeks are certainly going to be important.”

One issue farmers are worried about in that stretch of time, especially with cool weather, is frost. An early frost could mean damage to an already weaker crop, according to Larry Buchholz, who is also dealing with a lack of water in his fields.

“We need a lot of time this fall,” Buchholz said. “If we get a frost, that will be bad because the crop is already behind.”

Buchholz and Piekarski both mentioned that this season stands out after a better-than-average year last summer. The crops are about 10 to 12 days behind normal this year. At this time last year, they were 15 to 20 days ahead of schedule, according to Piekarski.

“We had a good year last year,” Buchholz said. “So you’re just seeing both ends of it.”

The time between the last two days of September and Oct. 10 is the average date planned for harvesting soybeans, and after that work starts on corn, Piekarski said. Despite the issue this year, Piekarski is hoping the fields will be ready for harvest at that time. But with around 50 days until he expects frost, time is running out to get enough good weather.

“Halloween is a nice time to be treated to bringing your tractors in and blowing off the dust from the harvest,” Piekarski said. “Of course, you can never know what’s going to happen.”

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