Western Minnesota farmers catch up with spring planting after late start
WILLMAR, Minn. — About the time west-central Minnesota farmers were ready to plant sugar beets and pick up seed corn from the co-op, there was a blizzard whipping across the state.
The late spring storm and lingering cold temperatures kept frost deep in the ground and kept farmers out of the fields in April.
"We should've been planting peas that week and instead we had a blizzard," said Jamie Vanderweyst, Farm Service Agency director for Meeker County.
But once May arrived with warm temperatures, farmers hit the ground running and quickly made up for lost time.
"It's unbelievable how well they can move once they get going. It amazes me every year," said Larry Thielen, director of the Farm Service Agency offices in Renville and Redwood counties.
"Everybody gets so worried and ansty when there's a late start," Thielen said.
But by mid-May, nearly all the sugar beets were in the ground, about 75 percent of the corn was planted and soybean planting was "well underway" in the region, he said. "Everybody is making pretty good progress."
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture crop progress report, for the week ending Sunday, indicates corn and soybean planting in Minnesota was 8 to 9 days behind the average and sugar beets just one day later than average.
For crop insurance purposes, the final planting day for corn is May 31 and June 10 for soybeans. Those dates and acres planted need to be reported to Farm Service Agency offices.
"Ideally, they'd have liked to have been in seven to 10 days earlier," said Tom Anderson, agency director in Swift County. "But if things can get wrapped up with corn this week, we'll be in pretty good shape."
Vanderweyst, who is also working in the Willmar office after the retirement of Wes Nelson, said corn planting is "going smooth" and soybeans are "starting to roll."
Despite the late start, she said, the planting schedule is "not as far back as we thought we might have been at this point."
Small grains, including oats and wheat that are typically planted first, however, were almost two weeks behind the average planting schedule.
For the most part, soil conditions have been favorable.
But because the frost went so deep into the ground this year, there are pockets of fields that are wet and soupy as the frost thaws.
"We're fighting frost yet," said Roger Walsh, who was planting soybeans Tuesday, May 15, in a field west of New London. He said it could be a couple weeks before those fields will be dry enough to plant.
Along with the delay in planting, the April storms made it a tough calving season for Walsh's herd of beef cows. "A lot of times I've seen one snowstorm in April, but never three," he said.
"We were waiting for the weather to break. But it went from bad to worse," Walsh said. "You've just got to roll with the punches."
After coming off two years of record-breaking yields, Walsh said he isn't making any predictions for this year.
"No matter how good your ground is or what kind of fertility, the guy upstairs has the last word," he said.