Early freeze could leave lasting damage

Published 10:36 am Friday, September 16, 2011

Minnesota’s growing season may come to a dead stop this week. And farmers aren’t happy about it.

This week’s freeze arrived before the major crops are fully mature. If damage is widespread — as predicted — it will cut yields for soybeans and hurt the quality of the corn crop.

“This is an early frost, and the level of damage is going to be larger because we got started late,” said Seth Naeve, a soybean specialist with the University of Minnesota. “It’s going to hurt us, and it’s going to be a little bit variable.”

Email newsletter signup

For early-maturing soybeans, the impact will be scant, Naeve said. Those plants are already dropping leaves.

Trouble is, only 9 percent of the Minnesota crop had reached that point as of Sunday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

And just 10 percent of Minnesota’s corn crop was mature on Sunday.

“The very late-planted beans, and the beans that are really still green, they are probably going to have at least a 25 percent yield hit,” Naeve said. “But that’s going to be probably the extreme. That’s going to be the worst case.”

Minnesota farmers this year expect to harvest 7.1 million acres of soybeans, and 7.6 million acres of corn, USDA says. That’s an $11 billion crop, based on current prices.

The National Weather Service has issued a freeze warning across all of central and southern Minnesota, from midnight tonight through 8 a.m. Thursday. Low temperatures are expected to be in the mid-20s to lower 30s, the weather service said.

“These conditions could kill crops and other sensitive vegetation,” the weather service said.

The freeze impact could be more severe than usual for farmers, due to two factors.

First, the growing season got a late start, due to a cold and rainy spring. Spring planting was two to three weeks behind schedule in much of Minnesota.

Second, a dry August will make soybean fields more vulnerable to freeze damage.

“This year, the soil is really dry and this will promote that chilling down into the canopy,” Naeve said.