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Knee high, prices low

Area crops are doing well at this point in the growing season, but progress will need to continue so growers can make up for low prices with larger yields. Photo by Nancy Woodke, Sun Tribune.

By Tom Larson, Sun Tribune

The venerable "knee-high by the Fourth of July" standard for corn crops has long gone the way of pinwheels, sparklers and homemade ice cream.

Especially this year, most area corn has easily surpassed that benchmark, thanks to plentiful rain and, for the most part, some warm, sunny days. Area beans also are in good shape.

The problem is, area growers will need the potentially strong yields to make up for fallen prices.

"Crop progress is good, but on the other side of it, crop value has come way down," said Dan Perkins, of the Ridgewater College Farm Business Management program. "As far as total gross dollars, we'll have to wait and see. But we need the yield to make up for those lost dollars."

The Stevens County area has, for the most part, avoided the heavy, saturating rains that other areas of the state have experienced, said Paul Groneberg, of CENTROL, noting that West Central Minnesota has received an average of about an inch of rain per week the last three weeks.

"Some are still plagued by that chill we had in May, but in most areas it's pretty much off to the races," Groneberg said. "If we get a couple of key rains close to tasseling, it should keep the crop looking pretty good."

According to the June 28 Minnesota Weekly Crop-Weather Report, the statewide average precipitation of about 2.12 inches is one inch above normal. Thirty-five percent of topsoil moisture supplies were rated surplus compared to 28 percent during the previous week.

Crops remained generally in good to excellent condition statewide, according to the report.

Average corn height was 32 inches and was rated 90 percent in good to excellent condition. Average soybean height was nine inches and was rated 83 percent in good to excellent condition. Seven percent of soybeans were blooming compared to three percent for the five-year average.

Seventy-three percent of spring wheat was heading with 85 percent rated good to excellent. Eighty-one percent of oats were heading and 5 percent were ripening with 86 percent rated good to excellent. Barley was 80 percent heading with 78 percent rated good to excellent. Sweet corn planting was 95 percent complete, according to the crop report.

Alfalfa first cutting was 84 percent complete with 77 percent rated in good to excellent condition.

Alfalfa weevils remained an issue in northern and western areas, Groneberg said.

"The alfalfa weevils this year are the worst I've seen in 30 years," Groneberg said. "There are a few fields that they've even sprayed twice. It'll be interesting to see if the trend continues because it's been getting worse in the last few years."

So "knee high" shouldn't be a problem in most areas this year.

"Well beyond that in most parts," Perkins said.

But while this year's crops may be better than last year's in terms of quality, the return won't measure up, he said.

Compared to last year's highs for what crops could have sold for, this year corn is down about 40 percent and beans are off about 30 percent, Perkins said.

"I can tell you that expenses haven't come down 30 to 40 percent," he said. "We're playing a lot higher risk game than we ever have before in the ag sector."