Harvest stops, the rain hasn't: 'It's ugly out there'

posted on Monday, October 7, 2019 in Current News

By Mitch Galloway, Farm News Media

LANSING — Fields of corn, soybeans and potatoes are turning into fields of standing water, leaving many Michigan farmers worrying about the impending first-killing frost.

In an almost replay of April and May’s record wet weather, state corn, potato, soybean, and dry bean producers received anywhere from 3.5 to 8 inches of rain this week, depending on the area.

According to Jeff Andresen, MSU Extension agricultural meteorologist, the wetter-than-normal “abnormal weather” in late September and early October led to “localized flooding, slowed dry down of maturing crops, and delayed harvest activities and winter wheat planting.”

Now he said forecast guidance for mid-October calls for more normal- to above-normal mean temperatures and precipitation totals due to a “gradual de-amplification of upper airflow across North America, with a more west-to-east zonal pattern likely through the middle of October.”

“Given this pattern, it is still possible for a Canadian origin air mass and a cold front to make at least a brief passage through the state with the threat of freezing- or near-freezing temperatures, especially across northern sections of the state,” he said.

If this happens, it could hamper farmers’ abilities to harvest already late-planted fields as a first-killing frost date approaches (see figure 1).

Here’s what industry leaders and educators are saying about their commodities — and the rain:

Concern for corn?

More heat units — that’s what corn needs right now to reach full maturity, said Jim Zook, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Corn Growers Association.

“We need time that is frost-free to finish the corn crop off,” Zook told Michigan Farm News. “We are doing OK — just kind of waiting for the corn to get somewhat closer to maturity.”

According to Zook, corn growers this week received anywhere from an inch to 4 to 5 inches of rainfall.

“It’s hampering corn silage harvest because we are already three to four weeks behind (schedule),” he said. “The other challenge is that rain this time of year will cause additional compaction on the soil to what was already done this spring.

“Wet weather continues to cause compaction of soils, which we will see an impact for years to come.”

Michigan Farm Bureau Field Crops Specialist Theresa Sisung said the heavy rains are also prompting quality concerns for this year’s corn crop.

“The current weather pattern has created the ideal environment for the proliferation of molds, mycotoxins, which leads to concerns of high levels of Vomitoxins in shelled corn and potentially even in corn silage,” said Sisung, adding that livestock, particularly swine, are very sensitive to it.

Potato harvest stalls

Potato harvest in Michigan stalled this week, with crops receiving roughly 3.5 to 8 inches of rain, according to the Lansing-based Michigan Potato Industry Commission.

Kelly Turner, executive director of the state’s potato research, promotion and education organization, said the significant rainfall in the last week will negatively affect this year’s crop.

“Obviously, it further delays an already late harvest, which was already running seven to 10 days behind ‘normal,’” she said. “Secondly, the heavy rain puts the crop at risk of disease pressure and rot from being buried in mud. Third, the field condition could result in a lower quality product when and if it does get harvested, which is bad for not only field shipments but could cause storage problems from now through next July.”

The organization reports that with water standing in fields, “additional low spots will be lost. Growers will need to exercise caution when storing potatoes to avoid losses in storage.

“Growers are indicating that over half of the crop is left to dig.”

Soybean growers avoiding trouble with rain

Despite it looking “ugly out there,” MSU Extension soybean educator Mike Staton said soybean producers are in the clear — sort of — and much of that is due to spring delayed plantings

“The reason that it’s not a big deal as maybe other producers is that much of our soybean crop went in late, so the timing makes it not as bad as it could have been,” said Staton. “It’s ugly out there, sure, and there’s water receiving everywhere, but for much of the state, it won’t be a big issue for soybean producers.”

Dry bean harvest at a standstill

In Pigeon, Mich., dry bean producer Ross Voelker said only 30% of his harvest is complete, as weather puts harvest at a standstill.

“If it didn’t rain anymore, we will have maybe seven to eight days where nothing got harvested at all,” said Voelker, director of the Frankenmuth-based Michigan Bean Commission Board. “As we speak, the harvest has stopped and shut down.”

The weather is also affecting the quality of the dry beans, Voelker said.

“Our quality is going down with wet weather and humidity, “ he said. “Only bad things can happen with a lot of rain — beans can sprout, beans can lose their coloration, beans can become pickers (or a bad bean).”

Voelker said the weather is already affecting next year’s profit through delayed wheat plantings.

“As we can’t take off our beans, it means we can’t get into our fields to plant wheat,” Voelker added. “It’s not only a one-year problem; we could stretch the one-year problem into effectiveness the following year.”