The 2011 growing season is likely to be one that is talked about for decades to come, whether it be the late planting in many areas last spring, greatly above normal rainfall and flooded fields from late May to early June, severe storms during the early part of the summer, or the extremely dry weather in August and early September. All of that was topped off by a very early killing frost in many areas of Minnesota and surrounding states on the morning of Sept. 15, which is two to three weeks earlier than normal at most locations.
Most of the primary corn and soybean production areas of southern and western Minnesota recorded low temperatures of 27-33° F that morning. Anything below 28° is considered a killing freeze; however, temperatures of 29-32° F for a few hours can have a similar effect on crops. Maturity levels of the crops varied considerably throughout the region.
A majority of corn in the southern portions of Minnesota that was planted in late April and early May was very close to reaching physiological maturity, or black layer, however, north of that area, most corn was planted in mid- to late May, and was probably two to three weeks from reaching maturity. Most soybeans are likely to be impacted by the early frost, but again there will be a lot of variation in the amount of damage. Soybeans that were beginning to turn color and were within a couple weeks of maturity may only have light to moderate damage; however, the later-planted soybeans could have significant yield loss. In addition, some areas did not have a killing freeze, only a moderate frost.
Producers who have crop losses from the early frost, along with earlier losses from heavy rains, hail, wind or the very dry weather, should contact their crop insurance agent before harvest to alert them of a potential loss. Producers need to follow proper procedures and documentation during harvest to verify crop losses, and assure them of any potential insurance indemnity payments.
Many farm operators forward priced a considerable amount of their anticipated 2011 corn and soybean production in order to capture very favorable crop prices in recent months. Crop conditions in many areas of southern Minnesota looked good to excellent in late July and early August, resulting in some producers being fairly aggressive in yield projections for forward pricing. The very dry weather pattern late in the growing season, coupled with the early frost, could result in a few of these producers being short of bushels to fill their grain contracts. Farm operators who suspect this situation should talk to the grain purchaser to find out what options they have.
The early frost, along with the dry weather pattern and warmer-than-normal temperatures, is likely to bring on the initiation of corn and soybean harvest quite rapidly, especially in parts of southern Minnesota where corn has reached maturity. Corn is usually at 30-32% moisture when it reaches back layer, and ideally growers like to see corn dried down in the field to 20-22 percent moisture, or lower, before they harvest the corn. This greatly saves on corn drying costs, and improves the quality of the corn being harvested and going into storage. Corn is usually dried down to a final moisture content of 15-16 percent moisture for safe storage until the following Summer. Corn will dry down about 0.50 % per day naturally at an average daily temperature of 60 degrees F, which increases as average temperatures rise, and will decrease as temperatures drop below that level. At Waseca, the normal daily average air temperature in September is above 60 degrees, but that drops to about 48 degrees during October.
The week of Sept. 18-24 has been designated National Farm Safety Week, which is very good timing as we enter full-scale fall harvest for the 2011 growing season. Farm Safety Week is a good time for farm families to review farm safety procedures. More farm accidents occur during the fall than at any other time of the year, and usually involve one or more farm family members. Special care should be taken with children and senior citizens around farm and grain-handling equipment, as these groups are the most vulnerable to farm accidents.
Federal and state statistics list farming as one of the most dangerous professions in the U.S. According to Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry data, 23 of the 69 work-related deaths in the state in 2010 involved the agriculture industry. There were 121 traffic accidents involving tractors and farm machinery in 2010, resulting in 19 injuries and two deaths.
The non-farm public also needs to pay extra attention when driving on rural roads during harvest season, especially before and after work or school. Farm vehicles are larger and move much slower than cars, and the Autumn sun is usually in a bad position during the times of heaviest traffic in the mornings and late afternoon on rural roads throughout the fall season. The best advice is to slow down, pay attention and stay off cell phones while driving.
For more details on fall farm and rural safety tips, go to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.