If you look through the opening between two sheds on the Al Bekius farm about four miles north of Princeton, you can see dark green corn standing straight and tall like sentinels.
Bekius said last week that his corn is doing very well, but quickly added that its low-ground location is the big reason for that.
Across the road from Bekius’ farm to the west, is another farm’s corn field, where some of the corn is on a hill, and those stalks are all tan-colored, and dry, with curled leaves.
Like most farmers, Bekius is watching his crops closely as the days close in on an early harvest this year and while a dry spell, that began about a month ago, continues.
There was a half-inch of rain on Tuesday, Aug. 21, reported in an area including Baldwin Township south of Princeton and on north to about Midwest Implement, located just north of the city. But then the rain skipped over the area at Long Siding and went farther north to about Milaca and Foreston, said crop farmer Tim Wilhelm, whose farm is at Long Siding.
Wilhelm and other farmers talked to last week, agreed that this year has been a mixed bag for weather. They pointed to heavy rains in early spring, and then the current dry period that included August.
Those early heavy rains were too much for some of Wilhelm’s corn ground and he had to replant 100 acres of it with new corn seed. His replanted corn is a lot less advanced than the other corn that germinated on time. Wilhelm said last week that his corn that got in on time has matured about a week earlier than normal. His corn that is on land with a clay subsoil is looking good, with hardened dents in the kernels.
Then he has some land area containing what he calls “droughty soils,” meaning they consist of a good top soil, but with a poorer, gravelly subsoil that he says doesn’t hold moisture.
Wilhelm also said he has a lot of soybeans maturing earlier than normal but notes that the dry conditions have been slowing their development in filling out their bean pods.
Both Wilhelm and Bekius have been watching their soybeans to see if the dry spell gets so bad that the top bean pods on the soybean plants abort, or fall off.
“City slickers” wouldn’t know what the abort process in soybeans means, said Bekius. What aborting means is bean pods in about the upper one-quarter of the plant slowing in development or not filling out with beans, Bekius said. It’s nature’s way, he said, of allowing the plant to save the bean pods closer to the roots.
It’s easy to see where soybean plants are not doing so well because instead of having a deep green color, they are light green to yellow, he noted. Drive along Highway 169 north of Highway 95 and you can see areas with the light green to yellow color in bean crops.
Bekius said that his best soybeans are in the low ground and the worst faring ones are on high ground because of the way the water drains and is retained.
The Reiman farm
Princeton dairy farmer Richard Reiman, whose crops are corn and hay, talked about his fields that lie west of Mille Lacs County Road 4 about two miles north of Princeton city limits.
Reiman, who stands about 5’ 9,” was dwarfed by the 12’ corn he stood next to on Aug. 30 in his field which is on low ground with clay soil. He had taken a stalk or two from that crop to this summer’s Mille Lacs County Fair where it was among the tallest corn stalks in the open class produce area.
“I’m happy with the corn overall,” Reiman said, and peeled back the leaves on one of the corn ears, revealing thick kernels filling out the ear.
Reiman did, nevertheless, talk about the rain deficit now, commenting that even though he harvested three crops of hay this year, the yield was half of normal due to the lower moisture level.
Reiman said his corn yield could end up being a little lighter and will be affected by the amount of moisture yet to come before harvest.
Dale Shelley, 37, who has his own farm operation but farms alongside his farmer father Ron Shelley in rural Princeton, said that the corn he planted early this year is maturing earlier than normal. By the time this story comes out, Dale figures he will have begun chopping some of his corn, and notes that the chopping would be as much as three weeks earlier than normal. His corn overall “looks pretty good but is starting to get a little too dry,” he said.
The soybeans Dale Shelley planted in April (which is about a fourth of his crop) are starting to turn in color and are coming along well. He said they are “so far, so good,” because they caught a lot of the season’s rains that came early.
Overall, his soybeans “look OK,” Shelley continued, saying that moisture now is very critical for the bean pods to fill out. If there isn’t enough moisture, they may not fill out all the way, he said.
According to University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley, Minnesota overall had below normal rainfall in August and mentioned the early maturing of crops this year, some of that due to the warm summer.
University of Minnesota Extension Educator Dan Martens, whose ag territory includes Benton County west of Princeton, said the corn crop is maturing “ahead of what you’d expect” for the amount of days since being planted. “The warm summer and growing-degree days kept pushing it along,” he said. Earlier than normal planting has also been a factor in the early maturity and some corn is now fully-dented, he said, while denting is starting on later-planted corn.
A lot of corn is getting chopped now as well, Martens continued, and said corn that is not yet fully mature can still benefit from rain.
Martens noted that some soybean plants in his area have empty pods because of the moisture deficit and said the limited yield will be seen on sandy soils.
Most Minnesota farmers are still better off than Iowa farmers in their corn crop this year because of even drier conditions to the south, Martens said. Some Minnesota corn on lighter soil that didn’t catch much rain can be every bit as bad as the corn in Iowa, he added.