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Area crop producers 'living on the edge'

Irrigation systems in Stevens County have been getting a workout this summer as producers cope with rainfall shortages

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

This is a critical time for area crops as the harvest looms.

Rainfall has been spotty all summer, and cooler temperatures have set maturity rates back about a week or so. And aphids in soybean crops are expected to peak in a week or two.

But, as always, it could be worse.

"As dry as it's been," said Paul Groneberg, of CENTROL, as he walked beans Monday checking aphids, "things are looking amazingly well."

According to the USDA's Aug. 10 statewide crop report, the progress of this year's corn and bean crops are on par with 2008 but lagging behind the five-year average.

Ninety-four percent of Minnesota's corn acres were silking or beyond, moving 14 percentage-points during the week, according to the USDA report. Corn silking is occurring at the same pace as last year's crop, but three points behind the average. Twenty-three percent of the corn crop had reached the milk stage by week's end, nine points behind last year and 36 points behind the 5-year average. Corn condition was rated 74 percent good to excellent, unchanged from last week, the report stated.

Moisture is a problem -- too much in some spots, too little in others. But statewide, 62 percent of topsoil was rated adequate to surplus for moisture, up from last week's 54 percent.

Fifty percent of soybeans were setting pods, eight points behind last year's pace and 23 points behind the five-year average. Soybean condition was rated 65 percent good to excellent, the crop report stated.

In the Stevens County area, the major issues are that corn and beans are behind, it's still too dry and aphid numbers are growing, Groneberg said.

He noted that recent storms produced between two and five inches of rain in areas around Appleton and Willmar, but missed Stevens County. Moisture levels aren't good until about 10 miles north into Grant County.

"If you are in areas where you are one of the have-nots, you have some problems," Groneberg said.

Erratic is how Dan Perkins, of Ridgewater College's Farm Business Management program, describes the situation.

Rainfall has been adequate to barely adequate, and in terms of maturity, "we're barely hanging in there," Perkins said.

"We've living on the edge a little bit," Perkins said. "It's still wait-and-see. We certainly don't have full-potential crops. It's not going to happen. But you don't win the World Series every year, either."

It doesn't yet appear that some areas are headed for disaster, he said, but that an average crop might be the best some producers can expect.

"Is it going to be the rip-roaring crop of 2005?" Perkins said. "No. That's not going to happen."