Dry season prompts early harvest

The dry growing season and dry harvest conditions have allowed Rock County farmers to wrap up the 2012 harvest season early.

The soybean harvest is all but completed, and corn is 80 to 90 percent done.

According to Rock County Farm Service Agency Director Fraser Norton, the better-than-expected yields are the big story this fall.

“Yields have been unbelievable this fall considering the heat and extremely dry conditions that we experienced this year,” Norton said.

He said soybean yields in the county have varied from 20 to 70 bushels per acre. 

“They will probably average around 40 bushels per acre compared to the county average of 50 bushels,” he said. 

“As expected, they have been coming off very dry. I have heard a lot of 8 to 9 percent moisture compared to the normal of around 13 percent.”

He said corn yields have varied in the county from 0 all the way to 220 bushels per acre, with an average around 140 bushels per acre. That compares to the county’s normal average of 178 bushels per acre. 

“As expected, they have been coming off very dry,” Norton said about the grain quality. “I have heard a lot of 11 to 13 percent moisture compared to the normal of around 15 percent.”

Excessive heat this year took a bigger toll on corn, which was at tasseling stage during the peak of the heat. 

Soil type factored into both corn and soybean yield, with heavier soils promoting better yield, and the crops on lighter, sandy soils faring worse.

Norton added that hay and pasture yields have been about half of normal, “although the quality of the hay crop has been good due to the absence of any rain damage,” he said.

 

We need 10 to 12 inches of rain this fall to replenish topsoil before freezing

With producers heading into post-harvest groundwork, Norton said they’ll have special considerations, thanks to the drought.

“Due to the extremely dry soil conditions, it is going to be very important for producers to consider conserving whatever soil moisture they might have as they make fall tillage decisions,” he said. 

“Likewise it is going to be very important to consider the impact that the dry and warm soils will have on fertilizer and especially the nitrogen levels and application.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that all of Rock County is now at the “Extreme” drought level, with this September being one of the driest in history. 

At the University of Minnesota Extension Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton, the soil moisture level in the top five feet of soil is among the lowest ever measured at the end of September. 

At the last recording date in Lamberton there was no available soil moisture detected in the top three feet of soil.

According to Mark Seeley, Extension climatologist and meteorologist, fall is a critical moisture recharge period. Usually a good share of rain and snow is absorbed, and little runs off during October, November and December. 

“So it is critical for the overall health of our soil and water resources that adequate or surplus precipitation falls before the landscape freezes up for the winter (usually in December),” he said.

According to Seeley, we need 10 to 12 inches of moisture to alleviate the drought in this area. He said this is highly unlikely, considering that all-time record amounts of precipitation would be needed by December. 

Extension data shows that only 17 of the past 117 years have produced a statewide average of 6 inches or more precipitation over the October through December period. This happens once every seven years. 

The absolute wettest October through December period in state history (1971) produced a statewide average precipitation for the period of just less than 8.5 inches.

“Probably a more realistic expectation is that enough precipitation will fall before the end of the year that there will be some modest alleviation of the soil moisture deficit,” Norton said.

“Thus it is an understatement to say that a wet spring will be needed for a decent 2013 crop in Rock County.

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