Early pickings

Dave Tangren, left, and his father, Pete, talk about the early harvest on their farm near Dexter. — Eric Johnson/eric.johnson@austindailyherald.com

After dry growing season, harvest off to quick start

With smiles and t-shirts on, farmers Pete and Dave Tangren could’ve enjoyed Sept. 13’s warm, sunny weather doing nearly anything. They chose to harvest.

Though 2012 was regionally one of the driest growing seasons on record, and farmers undoubtedly hoped

Dave Tangren picks corn on Sept. 13 while his dad, Pete, follows with the wagon.

for better corn stalk quality and ear fill, one couldn’t beat a complaint out of Pete or his son, Dave.

“This is good working weather,” Dave said.

“It’s great picking corn when it is 70 degrees,” Pete added.

The corn appeared a little green for picking, but a fungicide and stronger genetics contributed to that look. Still, the time is right. After all, how often do Minnesota farmers pick crops in mid-September — without frost, coveralls or frozen fingers? For many, the answer is: never.

Pete, who has been farming since the 70s, thought about the past. This is likely his earliest-ever harvest.

“If it’s not,” Pete pondered the question, and changed his mind “… I’m sure it is the earliest.”

In fact, the Tangrens picked their first 20 acres of corn on Saturday, Sept. 8. Most years, they’d be picking beans first. That’s not the case for many farmers this fall.

Among calibrating the computer in their combine to accurately record yield per acre, the Tangrens need to get some of their corn out of the field before the ears drop to the ground. That’s a concern for other farmers this fall. The stalk quality in areas is rated “very poor.” That especially holds true in the southernmost part of Minnesota. Joel Nelson of Lyle knows that. This is also the earliest he has ever harvested.

“You can see some ear droppage already,” Nelson said, who had picked about 300 acres of corn by the middle of last week.

He added, “It’s just a function of the drought.”

Rain repeatedly avoided farmers in the southern tip of Minnesota this summer, causing them to harvest earlier. But the conditions weren’t poor everywhere in the county and surrounding area.

“Everything north caught rain,” Dave said. “Sargeant, Waltham Hayfield — timely rain.”

Combine monitors are tracking yields all over the map. While corn to the south missed much of this year’s rain, some portions of fields in good soil still show promise. Nelson has tracked anywhere from just 10 bushels per acre all the way to 250. Overall, he suspects a below-average yield, but he’s still surprised.

“I guess the one thing that struck me,” Nelson said, “it’s kind of amazing that you can still see some good-yielding numbers with the complete and utter lack of rainfall. It just goes to show that hybrids these days perform better under stressful conditions.”

Around the counties, a few farmers began picking beans, as well. The Nelsons and Tangrens both expected to pick some beans before last weekend arrived. Both families expect average yields in that department, as well.

Pete talks about the crops that received the timely showers and those that received almost no rain. He looks at the fields that have good soil and those that are sandy. Variability is the word. Some farmers won’t see success this fall.

“I think the biggest thing is, this is going to be the year of the have and the have-nots,” Tangren said.

Plenty of crops remain in the fields; however, Nelson thinks most of them could be picked by September. Mother Nature will determine that outcome. Regardless, there are benefits. Farmers have no worries about getting crops out in time. Corn and soybean prices are still high. And with warmer weather comes quicker dry-down for grains, cheaper drying cost and less stress about equipment breakdowns in the field. The window is wide open.

“This is just like a bonus,” Pete said about the weather. “This just gives a bigger window to get work done.”

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