Each week the USDA tracks farmer harvest activities in their Crop Progress and Condition Report. At the beginning of this week Minnesota's statewide soybean harvest was 34 percent complete. Compare that number to this same week last year when 81 percent of Minnesota's soybeans were already on their way to market. In fact, the five-year average is for 83 percent of Minnesota's soybean crop to be out of the fields by this period of time.
Now, let's look at corn. Currently 3 percent of Minnesota's corn crop has been harvested. When comparing that figure to the previous year we see that 17 percent of the corn was already out of the fields by this time in 2008. The five-year average shows that farmers usually have about 1/3 (or 31 percent) of the corn crop harvested by this point in time.
So, what's the problem? In two words—"the weather." After coming off an above-average September where many crops gained valuable late season growing days before the first freeze, October has been sort of a Jekyll and Hyde by comparison. Simply put, a lack of drying days (warm, dry, sunny weather) has kept farmers out of their fields. Not only are many fields too wet to get equipment into, the bigger problem is the moisture content of the crop is so high it's just not suitable for harvesting. At least, not if the farmer wants to maintain a profit and avoid the high cost associated with artificially drying the commodity.
Of course, if you've driven through farm country lately none of this information really comes as a surprise to you. By the numbers we see the harvest is currently running about three weeks behind schedule. Unfortunately, the weather forecasts do not look promising and this slow harvest trend will likely continue for many more days to come.
Okay, so how does all this news affect those of us who enjoy hunting? Well, first of all most farmers have as a main priority the soybean harvest which at this pace could easily mean another solid two weeks once the weather starts improving. That likely means that seeing any meaningful harvest progress soon on the corn crop is highly unlikely.
Guess what opens in just 15 days. That's right, the Minnesota Firearms Deer Season is fast approaching and it's quite likely that those of us who hunt in Minnesota's agricultural belt will encounter LOTS OF CORN. Perhaps a near historic amount of still standing corn will be in the fields during Minnesota's most popular hunting period.
Does it make deer hunting tougher…you bet! Will lots of standing corn make it impossible to experience a quality deer hunt…certainly not! But firearms deer hunters who spend opening day hunting the agricultural areas might as well start preparing themselves to contend with corn.
In my area where small woodlots are scattered here and there with cornfields intermixed…here's what usually happens. After the first several shots on opening morning the deer head for the corn which provides them safe refuge, among other things. Once the deer find security in the corn, future sightings in the woodland hunting grounds can grow rather challenging.
Now, certainly a person can hunt corn fields and do it very successfully. I've done it where I've literally walked within spitting distance of a bedded deer (under favorable conditions). Problem is hunting corn is not my preferred method of spending time in pursuit of deer. Moreover, hunting deer in a cornfield demands extreme caution. Corn stalks don't stop bullets or slugs so hunters need to recognize the potential safety hazards involved. Not only does corn hide the deer…but it does an effective job at hiding fellow hunters, as well. When hunting around standing corn be safe and don't take chances!!
No doubt about it those of us who hunt in agricultural areas—whether for deer, pheasant or even Hungarian partridge—have a vested interest in watching the progress on the 2009 Minnesota crop harvest. Think of it this way…for every corn field that gets combined that's one less field in which our quarry is likely to use to evade us. Fewer fields of standing crops resulting in more concentrated wildlife haunts always makes for much better hunting.