After delay, spring planting takes off

May 8—By Tim Krohn tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com

Cold, wet weather continued to delay fieldwork across Minnesota recently, but area farmers are quickly moving to till fields, spread manure and fertilizer, and begin corn planting.

The USDA's latest crop progress report, released early last week, shows corn planting statewide was at 5% and soybean planting hasn't really gotten under way.

The forecast for the coming week isn't predicting a lot of rain, with chances at the 40-60% range.

"In Martin County and to the west, a lot of farmers are going at it," said Terry Wellman, who farms near Hanska.

He said the spring farm work comes after what turned out to be a good year for most farmers last season, despite a drought that hit much of the state.

"Last year things were pretty good in our area. My yields were second or third best of any I've had."

Wellman worked in the tech industry in Chicago but would return to Minnesota to help on his family's farm. In 2012 Wellman left the tech industry behind to become a full-time farmer.

But he uses his tech skills to take advantage of the array of precision farming technology that's been rolling out in recent years.

While the area southwest and northwest of the Greater Mankato region suffered from last summer's drought, the Mankato region and areas to the east, south and southeast received just enough timely rains throughout the season, resulting in fairly strong yields last fall.

Kent Thiesse, farm management analyst and vice president at MinnStar Bank in Lake Crystal, said last year and a few years before that also brought wealth to area farm operations.

"Last year the net farm average income was $311,000 and the median income was $177,614, which was almost identical to 2021."

That is a dramatic increase from even a few years ago. In 2019 the median farm income in the region was only $36,550.

Income jumped dramatically in 2020 because of the extra federal COVID funding that flowed to farmers.

"But the last two years the (high) income has been because of phenomenal crop prices."

Thiesse said there are signs that those record crop prices farmers have enjoyed may be falling off this year.

Tom Hoverstad, a scientist at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, said that while the recent cold snap slowed field work some, it is better than a year ago.

"Last spring was poor. It was a cold and wet April and there was a late planting season. The year before that was good and in the 2020 year of COVID it was early planting and a great crop."

Hoverstad said that while the area went into the winter dry, the winter season helped replenish some soil moisture.

"Winter was good to us. We had the wettest winter on record," he said.

And while snowmelt can run off of frozen fields in the spring, this year was better. Heavy snowcover early last winter insulated the ground, meaning the frost was not deep.

"So when the soil frost thawed, that water became available (for the soil)," Hoverstad said.