Neither Abdon Peterson Jr., of rural Milaca, nor Greg Sumser, of rural Princeton, can tell you the extent of the damage to their corn or soybean crops caused by the absence of rain during the past two months.
But people who record the weather for a living have it on record that the dry conditions this summer pushed some of the area into either moderate or severe drought. Sumser said that a significant amount of his corn is better than it may appear to someone driving down the road. But then he brought up something he had just found in one of his corn fields that he agreed could be called the “Tale of Two Corns.”
Sumser had stood between two rows of corn plants 30 inches apart in a sandy, non-irrigated field and had pulled an ear of corn off a corn stalk on his right, and one from a stalk to his left.
As he looked at the two ears sitting on the desk in his farm office in Baldwin Township south of Princeton, he wondered at the sight. The one corn ear was fully formed with golden yellow, dented kernels filling it out. The other ear only had developed kernels part way up the ear, while the rest were underdeveloped and chalky white.
Hours later, Sumser tried the same kind of sampling in another one of his corn fields, one with a loamy soil with less sand. What he found there was even more perplexing. Of the two ears he pulled out of that field, the difference was even more extreme.
This time, the better of the two ears was even larger and nicer than the best ear he had picked earlier, while the lesser developed ear on this second pick was what he called “even more embarrassingly poor” than the previous poor corn ear.
Sumser said he wonders how much of his corn crop has partially developed ears. He explained that he finds out pretty quickly at harvest time how the yield will be when he combines the first rows in each field. But harvest time had not yet arrived.
Peterson has something in common with Sumser in that both have fields of corn with a lot of dry, drooping corn.
Peterson, who owns a 180 milk cow dairy farm with his brothers Phil and Warren, pointed to some of that dry corn on the edge of a field next to the Peterson farm yard. He explained how the ears are drooped down on the dry, yellow corn stalks, compared to the ears sticking upward on the greener and still viable corn plants.
“I doubt if rain will help them,” he said of the yellow plants with drooping ears, explaining that those stalks are damaged. “They need green below the ear.”
Peterson mentioned the topic of rain because there had been a prediction that week that there could be rain on Sunday, Sept. 8. Phil Peterson reported it rained 1 1/2 inches at the Peterson farm on Sunday.
When discussing rain, Sumser said that if he were given the choice of rain or a delay in the arrival of the killing frost, he would go with delaying the frost.
He agreed with Abdon Peterson that rain, while welcome anytime to begin replenishing the moisture deficit in the soil, isn’t going to mean much to the current corn and soybean crops that have been hurt by the drought. But a killing frost, on the other hand, would stop the maturation of the grains, such as the continued hardening and denting of the corn kernels, Sumser said.
The Petersons and many area farmers had great crop yields last year, with Peterson saying their farm had a bumper crop and that it was due to timely rains.
Some might say the crops in central Minnesota experienced whiplash. The spring was late, with lots of rain and colder than normal temperatures prevailing, which slowed the date of planting and early development. Then, as the temperatures moderated, the moisture pushed crops to catch up, at least in height.
What developed after June was something Princeton area farmer Kevin Koppendrayer cautioned could happen – dry “dog days of August,” and that came true.
As St. Cloud State University Professor of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences Robert Wiseman said the rain shut down after late June in much of the state, including Central Minnesota.
The National Drought Monitoring Center, at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, puts out a report each week that supports the statements from many in the area about drought this summer. The Drought Monitoring Center’s report Thursday, Sept. 5, showed most of the southern half of Minnesota in moderate, or Stage 1, drought, with a large oval patch of Stage 2, or severe drought hooking a small southern part of Mille Lacs County, including Princeton. The severe-drought patch also takes in all of Sherburne and Meeker counties, most of Kandiyohi and Stearns, and part of Benton and Wright.
The Princeton area south of Highway 95 has predominantly sandy soil, which doesn’t hold the moisture long.
Some farmers on sand resort to irrigation sprinklers during dry times, and one of those farmers is Greg Anderson of rural Princeton. He has a beef cattle farm with corn and soybean crops, and where his sprinkler system has missed at the ends of his corn fields, the corn is stunted. Anderson said last week that besides having a lot of drought-stricken corn this year, his soybeans are “shot.”
Sumser gave an idea of what Anderson may have meant by “shot,” because there are pods with beans in them on his soybean plants.
Sumser explained that you can have soybean plants with pods with beans inside, but when it is dry as it has been here, the beans in the pods can be fewer in number and smaller. They don’t bulge out the pod like they would if they had fully developed, Sumser said.
Peterson, while discussing rain, said that if there had been significant rain a week earlier, it could have helped fill the corn ears more.
Sumser said his soybeans are in worse shape than his corn and that he has heard reports from all over the state of farmers having the same issue of soybean pods not filling out very well.
Sumser also sells hay and is seeing the effects of the drought on that business. He explained that he has been getting calls from customers this year that he never had before because of this year’s hay shortage.
One advantage that the Peterson brothers have is that they also have cows. Corn that is not very promising for selling as grain can either be chopped for silage or combined to produce high-moisture corn to feed to the cows.
The only other major recourse is to have crop insurance, which many farmers have.
Sumser was asked if he has developed a way of thinking to deal with the down times in farming and he said: Appreciate the good times because the not so good times are going to come along.
Phil Peterson was appreciative Monday of the rain that arrived the day before.
“We’re very grateful,” he said.