HOUSTON, Minnesota (WXOW) - Too much rain this spring, followed by flash drought conditions this summer, has made another difficult year for corn farmers. And now, with the harvest right around the corner, corn farmers are sizing up their fields, and making difficult decisions.
"It's just drying up," said Ken Witt of Deerfield Farms in Houston, MN. "And actually, if you look behind me, there's corn that's burnt from top to bottom. It's just gone essentially."
Witt describes the season as "struggling."
"It's been extremes," said Witt. "From one to the other. We started out the spring with extremely wet conditions, floods. We had quite a few of our farms that went underwater and delayed our planting times. And now, we've gone extreme the other way. To our higher grounds drying out and actually drought conditions, with the crops drying up early and maturing earlier than they should be."
And Witt isn't the only one feeling the strain. Many fields in the Coulee Region have been drying up, and lack of water isn't the only culprit.
"It's really dependent on your soil moisture and it's ability to hold it," said Steve Huntzicker, La Crosse County UW-Extension Agriculture Agent. "Certainly the light sandy soils are going to get rid of moisture, it's going to drain through and disperse out much quicker than some of our heavier clay soils."
As a result, fields with sandy soils are among those hardest hit with the drought.
"Where we have sandy conditions and really dry conditions, we start to see the plant completely shutting down already," said Huntzicker. "In those cases we might see some reduced yields if the ears don't completely fill out as the corn develops."
But the health of the corn crop isn't completely dependent on the amount of rain and soil type. The variety of corn, along with time and conditions that it was planted in, also plays a big role.
"When we look at how much yield reduction, it's going to be variable," said Huntzicker. "Depending on the maturity of the plant, when it started to shut down, and how much it fills out that ear [of corn]."
And because of the drastically different planting times and field conditions this spring, some areas are fairing the drought better than others. In some harder hit fields, leaves are brown and the ears are drooping. Huntzicker said even with more rain, these crops aren't likely to improve.
"It really depends on what stage the corn plant is at," said Huntzicker. "If it starts to shut down and dry out completely it won't pick up much moisture even if we get it now."
To make matters worse, the late spring and wet conditions lead to a poor hay harvest for many of these same farmers.
"We have a cow-calf operation so we need a certain amount of feed," said Witt. "Our hay production is down. Our second crop was very poor just due to when the planting could be done."
This leaves Witt was a difficult decision.
"We're short on feed," said Witt. "So there may be some corn crop that's going to have to be chopped to make up for that feed. We haven't made that decision yet but it's going to have to be made within the next week."
Witt says he won't know the extent of the damage until the harvest.
"Ultimately, we can't change Mother Nature," said Witt. "We can only just deal with the hand she gives us and do our best."
Despite the highly varied yields that are expected in the Coulee Region, Huntzicker said nationally the corn crop is doing well.
"The projections are that we're going to have a fairly good corn crop nationally," said Huntzicker.
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