Corn harvest east of Waconia.jpg

Bean harvest in Laketown Twp. (Al Lohman/The Patriot)

It’s been a year that had area farmers holding their collective breaths.

That’s how Colleen Carlson, agricultural extension educator for Carver and Scott counties, describes the recent growing season as the fall harvest nears an end.

Despite what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Twin Cities office reports as the most extreme drought conditions in Minnesota in the last 30 years, crop yields are looking fairly good across Carver County, according to Carlson and other area agronomists.

The rains that fell here were timely, and favorable fall weather has enabled farmers to bring in the harvest slightly ahead of the historical average schedule. About 70 percent of corn and nearly 95 percent of soybeans had been harvested as of last week, according to crop reports.

Meanwhile, soybean yields have been “phenomenal” while corn has been “better than anticipated,” notes Bill Reimers, general manager of Mid-County Coop in Cologne serving agricultural and other customers in Carver County.

The oat crop earlier this year was another story, Carlson indicates, with low yields and farmers using oats for straw instead of a cash crop.

While Carver County crop yields were decent overall, other counties to the north and southwest did not fare so well as severe drought conditions persist. Many dairy and produce farms were ravaged. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects Minnesota to see a 13-bushel-per-acre decrease in corn yield overall from 2020, and the federal government will send about $17 million to the state for disaster mitigation.

As the fastest growing county in the state, more and more of Carver County farmland is being turned into housing developments and pavement, yet there still are close to 160,000 acres here in agricultural production. Not just cash crops, but also fresh fruits and vegetables.

It also turned out to be a good year for pumpkin and squash growers and other fresh produce, Carlson reports, while apples were a mixed bag due to the drought, with some varieties doing well and others on the small side. The CSA market, or community-supported agriculture, also was strong as the pandemic with its restricted movement seemed to open up alternative local markets for fresh fruit and vegetables. CSA is a kind of crop sharing system that connects producers and consumers more closely by enabling the consumer to subscribe to the harvest of a certain farm or group of farms.

It was also a lingering growing season, with no frost until later October, and no real hard freezes until the past week.

Meanwhile, the lack of rain aided crops drying in the fields, which saves farmers from spending as much money on propane to fuel their grain dryers, Riemers explains.

Also in farmers’ favor is that grain market prices are at their highest levels in many years, according to ag financial reports.

On the other hand, the U.S. average diesel fuel price for the week ending Oct. 25 increased by 4.2 cents from the previous week to $3.713 per gallon, $1.33 above the same week last year or a 36 percent increase from 2020.

That affects the cost of trips across the field, delivery prices of commodities, cost of manufacturing and delivery of fertilizer, Carlson notes.

In fact, farmers this year weren’t just holding their breath about weather, but also fertilizers and chemicals for crops, which were in short supply and at double to triple normal prices because of supply chain issues that have been plaguing other markets as well.

But at least there are signs the drought that started last fall is easing as more steady rainfalls and less evaporation with the arrival of cooler temperatures this fall start to make a dent. Meanwhile, Carlson notes the steady rain that fell here for two days last week will help replenish much needed soil moisture as farmers look ahead to next spring.

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