Overall, the rainfall across most of the southern two-thirds of Minnesota has been quite welcome, and should greatly aid 2010 crop production. In late May and early June, many areas of Minnesota were starting to get quite dry, with some later-planted soybeans having difficulty emerging due to the dry soil conditions. Most of the region has now received 2-4 in. of rain during June, with some areas receiving much higher amounts during the intense storms of the past couple of weeks (see Tornado Damage in Minnesota below). There are a few isolated areas that have received less rainfall, and are still a bit on the dry side. The ample June rainfall has helped recharge stored soil moisture to near capacity in many areas, which could provide to be very beneficial later in the growing season.

The combination of ample soil moisture and normal to above-normal temperatures is providing almost ideal growing conditions for corn and soybeans in mid- to late June. The growth pattern of both corn and soybeans are progressing at a rapid pace, and the crops look good to excellent in most areas, except those localities that were impacted by the severe storms. One problem with the frequent rainfall events in the past few weeks has been timely weed control for corn and soybeans. Most growers rely heavily on postemergence herbicide applications for primary weed control, which are applied after both the crop and weeds are emerged. The numerous rainfalls, combined with several windy days, have greatly limited the ability of farm operators to make timely herbicide applications.

Many livestock producers are hoping to begin the second cutting of alfalfa in the next week, in order to gain the highest feed quality, while other hay producers are still trying to finish up their first cutting. The harvest of canning peas is also getting underway in southern Minnesota. A somewhat dryer weather pattern in the next couple of weeks would be helpful for both the hay and pea harvest.

Tornado Damage in Minnesota

The widespread tornado damage across Minnesota on June 17 was one of the worst one-day tornado and severe storm events in Minnesota in several years. Severe tornado damage occurred from Wadena, Otter Tail and Polk counties in northwest Minnesota to Freeborn, Faribault and Steele counties in southeast Minnesota, with minor damage in some other areas of Minnesota. Three people were killed and several more were injured as a result of the tornadoes. It appears that the most widespread damage occurred in the city of Wadena, and the surrounding area, and in western Freeborn County and eastern Faribault County, where about 60 farm sites received moderate to severe tornado damage. There was considerable damage to rural homes, livestock facilities, machinery and grain storage facilities and other buildings on the farm sites. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has requested a presidential disaster declaration for the affected counties, which could lead to some federal assistance to the families, businesses and communities that were impacted by the tornadoes.

In addition to the property damage from the tornadoes, severe storms in many parts of Minnesota, as well as in northern Iowa, in the past couple of weeks have resulted in hail damage and excessive rainfall at some locations, which has lead to crop damage in local areas. Much of the hail and heavy rain events have covered smaller areas in most cases, and have not impacted large regions. However, for those farm operators that are impacted, it is very unfortunate to see a good to excellent crop suddenly destroyed, or severely damaged, by the intense storms. Some of the affected growers are still attempting to replant some early soybean varieties, while corn replanting is no longer an option. The farm operators that incurred crop loss should contact their insurance agent to discuss and options for federal crop insurance and hail insurance overages.

EPA Delays E15 Decision Again

Just last week, the Focus On Ag column highlighted the importance of the U.S. EPA decision regarding the increase of the maximum ethanol blend rate in the U.S. above the current 10% (E10) maximum level. EPA has now announced a delay until the fall 2010 for the decision to increase the maximum ethanol blend rate to 15% (E15). This is the third time in the past two years that EPA has delayed the E15 decision, citing the need for more study of the E15 blends. There are also indications that the potential expansion to a 15% ethanol blend maximum may only be for vehicles that are 2007 or newer, which will make the ethanol usage expansion very limited. This decision is certainly a disappointment to the ethanol industry, corn producers and to citizens who support the U.S. moving toward more utilization of biofuels. Interestingly, there appears to be no scientific evidence that is preventing EPA from moving forward with the E15 decision.

Farm operators need to pay close attention to the continuing EPA delays in the implementation of E15 blend maximum, and other possible restrictions in potential E-15 blends. This could affect the profitability of individual ethanol plants, which could force reductions in ethanol production at some locations. Ultimately, that could result in lower corn prices in the months ahead, which could have serious financial impacts for Midwest crop producers. Hopefully, the decision by EPA regarding the use of E15 ethanol blends in the U.S. will be resolved sooner than later, in order to maintain the economic vitality in rural communities across the Midwest, and to move the U.S. forward with utilization of renewable energy sources.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.