Minnesota farm fields have a serious water problem, and it’s not drought.
More than half of the state’s farm fields — 53 percent — have surplus topsoil moisture, and 49 percent have surplus subsoil moisture, according to a weekly U.S. Department of Agriculture report on Minnesota crop conditions released Monday.
“Conditions declined for all crops during the week as a result of excess moisture and standing water,” the report said. “Many farmers have been unable to get equipment into their fields, delaying fertilizer and chemical application.”
Most crops are in the ground, but 35 percent of the corn and 41 percent of soybeans are in very poor, poor or fair condition, the report said.
That’s no surprise to state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, who has toured some of the areas in southern Minnesota with crop damage. It’s still too early to know how many acres across the state have been affected, he said, but Rock County in southwestern Minnesota is certainly one of the worst, with 100,000 of its 250,000 tillable acres destroyed or severely damaged by flooding and hail.
“It is devastating,” Frederickson said. “Soybean fields where you could normally see green rows now look like a plowed field: totally black. Corn had a little bit of a stalk sticking out on some of the most severely damaged areas or not there at all, just pounded into the dirt. So that’s done.”
The challenge facing farmers is that it is too late to replant corn because of its long growing season, and almost too late to replant soybeans, Frederickson said.
He estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of farmers in the damaged areas are covered by some form of crop insurance. “That is not an incentive to lose a crop,” Frederickson said, but the insurance payments in most cases should be enough to cover the cost of seed, fuel and fertilizer needed for 2015 planting. “Basically it’s kind of marching in place and waiting for the next year so you’re not going to be forced out of business because you had a bad year,” he said.
Paul Henning hopes to salvage as much as possible this season, and he was showing one of his soybean fields to two insurance adjusters Monday afternoon.
Nearly all of the field just a half-mile north of Interstate 90 was underwater two weeks ago, but dried out enough for him to replant 125 acres with soybeans last Thursday.
“We did as much as we could and got as close to the water as we could,” he said. “I still have another 25 or 30 acres I’d like to replant, but the season is getting shorter, and I don’t like to plant after July 4th.”
Henning farms about 800 acres of corn and 800 acres of soybeans in Jackson County near Okabena.
He said he also lost about 50 acres on one of his cornfields that still has standing water. When it dries out, he expects to plant oats or some other cover crop. Crops on most of his other fields also sustained damage, Henning said, and will probably grow to harvest — but will likely produce lower yields than normal.
High winds also destroyed a 170-foot conveyor belt that’s part of an automated feeder system for about 350 cattle that Henning raises in a feedlot. He had to hand-feed the animals for three days and said he feels fortunate that his insurance company was able to install a replacement feeder system quickly.
Henning said he’s not alone with the storm damage and insurance claims. Most of the farmers in his area have crop damage from rain and hail, and some also have property damage from straight-line winds.
Reports about crop damage in different counties are being compiled by the federal Farm Service Agency.
When it comes to roads, bridges and other public infrastructure, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin compiling a preliminary damage assessment this week to start the process of bringing federal help to counties with significant flood damage.