Better late than never

Published 11:10 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Farmer Doug Sheely fills his planter with corn Wednesday east of Brownsdale. -- Eric Johnson/

Most area farmers finished planting corn within the last few days, roughly one month behind last year’s early schedule. Yields won’t be as high as 2010, fall corn may be wet, and spring temperatures still haven’t risen. That recipe could spell bad news come fall.

“We’re definitely behind average,” said Jon Hillier, agronomist at Northern Country Co-Op.

But none of that has dampened area farmers’ moods. They feel lucky.

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“Last year was a record year, so I don’t think anyone can compare to that,” Hillier added. “But there’s still potential for an above average year.”

Hillier remembers the last late planting season several years ago; however, that year turned out above average, he said.

If the weather is good next week, one can expect to see smiles on farmers’ faces, too. They’ve finished planting and are excited to see what summer brings.

Right now, they are relieved the job is done. Farmers were planting so early in 2010, there was no pressure to finish. This year, some farmers have been in the fields a total of only six to seven days.

As Brownsdale farmer Doug Sheely said, he’s had to “put the pedal to the metal.”

In the midst of an extremely wet spring, farmers are finally getting into the fields, nearly a month later than last year. - Eric Johnson/

Sheely plants about 2,000 acres of corn for himself and his neighbors. To say he was busy last week is an understatement, especially compared to 2010.

“Oh, last year was a cake-walk,” said Sheely, adding he could start and finish whenever he wanted. Last year, he finished planting corn on May 3. This year, he started on May 4. Like many, his first effort in 2011 was thwarted by heavy rain, which meant a two-week delay.

Sheely was planting all day Wednesday, only taking enough time to refill his planter and return to the field. He hoped to finish before the weekend, or more rain could push his schedule further back.

“We‘re going to push pretty hard,” he said.

Strike while it’s hot

Part of farmers’ drive to get done is to cash in on a record-high $6 per bushel of corn at the elevators this fall. Although bushels per acre may lag, farmers will have planted more acres of corn in Minnesota than ever, according to the Corn Growers Association. The few extra acres for each farmer could pay off if weather sits at 85 degrees, coupled with some timely rains. Fall will likely cost farmers some extra time drying their corn, however. Nonetheless, Minnesotans look on the bright side because the rest of the nation is not so lucky.

According projections by WeatherBill, a weather insurance and risk management company for farmers, the top corn producing states could lose anywhere from $5.8 to $11.2 billion because of lower yields in 2011. Heavy rains, floods and tornadoes in the eastern corn belt have created a major setback to the US’s total corn production, projected at 92 million acres in 2011.

Jeff Hamlin, director of agronomic research at WeatherBill, said farmers tend to lose about a half-bushel per acre for every day they don’t plant after April 28. Furthermore, farmers are seeing more extreme weather changes.

According to data from state climatology offices, the most-affected states this season are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin. Even northern Minnesota has been hit hard, but southeastern Minnesota may be the luckiest of any region.

“When I talk to other corn growers around the state, there’s other corn growers that are a lot wetter than we are,” said Dan Erickson, regional representative for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

Erickson finished planting corn Wednesday night. Despite all the pessimism, he and local farmers are in good spirits.

“You’ve got to be an optimist to be a farmer,” Sheely said.

Others echoed his sentiment.

“You’ve still got to have optimism that you’re going to do well, because if you’re not optimistic about how your crop is going to do, you probably shouldn’t farm,” Erickson added.

He and the others realize it’s left to Mother Nature at this point; they don’t rely on weather or economic projections. They realize they’ll be pulling a lot of acres of corn late in the fall, and the prices will be good, too. Beans are likely to produce well and are at record prices, as well. That combination adds a little solace.

“I can’t stand the doom and gloom all the time,” Erickson added. “Yeah, we get nervous and worry, but you can’t be doom and gloom.”

Farmer Doug Sheely begins planting a field east of Brownsdale Wednesday. Farmers are finally getting into the fields nearly a month later than usual due to an extremely wet spring. - Eric Johnson/