Flooding in southern Minnesota and elsewhere in the Midwest is forcing farmers to keep an eye on the weather as spring planting draws near, hoping the soil will be ready for corn and soybeans.
Standing water in fields near rivers and lakes that have leapt their banks is the main concern, posing what could be the latest tribulation for farmers already struggling through a down cycle for grain prices and the effects of a trade war with China.
"You're going to have a lot of ponding on the farmland for weeks here, a lot of water that's moving through the system," said Ted Winter, a farmer near Fulda, Minn., a few miles north of Worthington. "It puts more stress on people that are already really stressed."
The last week in April is generally the best time to plant corn, and most farmers plant soybeans right after corn, so fields have more than a month to drain and dry. A forecast for temperatures well above freezing over the next week bodes well, said Dave Nicolai, a crops educator for the University of Minnesota Extension.
"The thing we've got going for us now is the days are longer and we have a little more sunlight," Nicolai said. "We still have time. I'm not overly concerned outside of that overland flooding area."
Last year's planting was delayed by snow in April, but the ground wasn't as saturated then. The timing of planting in 2019 will depend on how much it rains and snows over the next few weeks.
"What happens in April? Are we going to have excessive rains? Are we going to have another snow?" Nicolai asked.
Delayed planting is more than just a logistical headache for farmers. It affects the harvest.
"You'll have a loss of yield because you're just not able to get it in time," Winter said.
Swollen rivers to the south have already had an effect on farmers, clogging shipping lanes and driving down the local price offered to farmers for their grain in some places as grain handlers struggle to move commodities down the Mississippi River. Just like streets in Minneapolis and St. Paul, gravel roads in rural areas are in worse shape than usual and will need repairs.
Farmers deal with uncertain spring conditions every year, though, and are increasingly able to plant crops quickly.
"Even with a very late snow last year, we still had enough opportunity to plant crops, even in early May," Nicolai said. "The bottom line is things can happen very quickly in the spring and often do."
Winter, who farms corn and soybeans, said the larger problem for farmers is the overall state of the market for their crops. While wet soil is an "added pressure," it's nothing they haven't dealt with before.
"We've planted a lot of corn in May," Winter said.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz