It is too soon to tell whether this year's late spring and dry spell will have a major impact on area farmers' harvests.
The biggest impact likely will be on the alfalfa crop, said LeRoy Williams, University of Minnesota Extension Service-Todd County extension educator.
Usually the first alfalfa cutting is 40 to 50 percent of the year's total yield. But many farmers' first cutting was about half of the normal cut because the spring was so dry and the alfalfa didn't grow, Williams said.
Richard Fischer, a cattle and grain farmer in Morrison County, said he lost some alfalfa when the weather warmed in February or March. The alfalfa began to grow, but died when the weather got cold again. Grass has come up in its place.
"I try to cash crop some of it," Fischer said. "I don't think that's going to be there this year."
The small first alfalfa cut in central Minnesota compounded with the flooded fields in northwestern Minnesota -- where many area farmers buy alfalfa -- means there might be a hay shortage this winter.
In addition, some farmers' hay stockpiles are low because they had to feed their cattle later into the spring. The pastures didn't green up because of the cold weather, Fischer said.
Walter Zastrow, a dairy and grain farmer east of Long Prairie, said his alfalfa was about 60 percent of his normal first cutting, but because of last week's rain he should get a better second cut.
The corn field belonging to Marcel and Jean Hayes looked well behind normal Tuesday for this time of year because of the dry spring. The field is just south of Richard Fischer's field.
The cold spring also forced some farmers to plant their crops late, meaning some crops' growth is behind.
According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture weekly crop report ending June 23, average corn plants across the state were 5 inches shorter than the five-year average and soybeans were 1 inch shorter than the five-year average.
"My corn looks fine right now, but it's behind," Fischer said. "We're going to hope for a late fall."
Fischer said he planted about two weeks late this year. Many farmers around him who planted earlier had to replant. But most farmers in central Minnesota plant corn that takes between 80 and 90 days to mature, and the later they plant the higher risk they run of losing their harvest to frost. The median frost in Minnesota is Sept. 20 and the first freeze is around Oct. 1, said Mike Stewart, National Weather Service-Duluth meteorologist.
Despite the lack of rain, many farmers' corn is growing at its normal rate, Williams said.
"We need lots of fertilizer, lots of water and lots of sunshine," Williams said.
For the first 25 days the corn grows little, but it determines how many rows of corn around the ear it will develop. Then precipitation is needed for the vegetative growth and reproductive stages. Corn is now moving into the vegetative state.
Small grains such as wheat and oats were harder hit by the early dry spell. They do most of their growing in the spring. Their stalks didn't grow as tall as normal.
"We could have a straw shortage in the future," Williams said.
According to the June 23 Minnesota agriculture department crop report, about 30 percent of oats were headed compared to the five-year average 36 percent, 14 percent of barley was headed compared to 23 percent, and 8 percent of spring wheat was headed compared to 26 percent. Heading is the stage when the seeds grow on the plants.
Richard Fischer kneeled in his corn field several miles southeast of Brainerd in Morrison County on Tuesday. Fischer, who planted his corn two weeks later than most farmers, said his corn looks fine right now.
"The damage has already been done," said Jerry Breid, a grain and bean farmer southwest of Wadena. "We really won't know what the damage is until harvest." His wheat is shorter than normal.
The biggest problem for many farmers at this point is weed control, Breid said. It was too cold and dry for weeds to grow when the pre-emerge chemical weed control was sprayed. And when it finally warmed up and the weeds began to grow, the weed control was no longer effective.
The recent rain and wind have made it difficult for farmers to spray post-emerge weed chemicals according to government regulation. Currently the fields are too wet to drive through to spray chemical weed control, Breid said.
The dry spell didn't affect local livestock because farmers provide additional feed or water as needed. Heat can stress cattle, causing reduced milk production. Zastrow said his milk production has remained steady.
"As long as it cools off at night, I think we're OK," he said.
Stewart said weather likely will be near normal for July, August and September in Crow Wing County.
In July average high temperatures are in the low to mid 80s and low temperatures are in the high 50s and low 60s. Average precipitation is 3.5 inches. In August average high temperatures are in the upper 70s and average lows in the 50s. Average precipitation is 3.75 inches.
He said according to climate data, the drought in the western United States will not travel east to Minnesota for at least the next year, as far as climatologists can predict.
Area farmers will have a better sense of their crop yield later in the summer. There is no way to know what the harvest will be "until the combines roll through the field," Williams said.
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