Late August rains boost crops for some
Farmers once described timely, crop-boosting precipitation as "a million-dollar rain." The term, more poetic than scientific, has been outdated by higher crop prices, but the concept remains valid.
Widespread rains across the Upper Midwest during the weekend of Aug. 23 and 24, particularly Aug. 23, gave a big boost to still-maturing crops, including corn, soybeans, sugar beets and potatoes, area farmers and agriculture officials say.
Though some areas received too much precipitation.
"In general, this was a good rain," said Michael Knudson, North Dakota State University Extension Service agent in Grand Forks County.
Late summer-early fall rains usually help some crops while hurting others, and the Aug. 23 and 24 rains hampered harvest of wheat and other small grains. But the small-grain harvest was just beginning, and producers generally will be able to work around the delay, Knudson says.
All 75 reporting stations in North Dakota, western Minnesota, northern South Dakota and eastern Montana monitored by the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network received rain Aug. 23. Though some stations reported less than a tenth of an inch, many received half an inch to 2 inches.
Many area fields had gone several weeks without significant rainfall, and some were running short of moisture. Ideally, the Aug. 23 and 24 rains would have come earlier, but they still fell in time to benefit many fields, farmers said.
"This helped potatoes," said Andy Robinson, NDSU and University of Minnesota Extension potato agronomist.
Many potato plants have reached the stage where they’re bulking up, and the recent rains will give them extra moisture to help, he said.
The precipitation also softened soils and will make potato harvest easier, he said.
The rains "were very welcome for the sugar beet crop," says Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture for Moorhead, Minn.-based American Crystal Sugar.
"They should help yields slightly. We were getting pretty dry over the past six weeks, and this should help to develop a little better crop," he said.
Gain and loss
There were anecdotal reports that some fields across the region received more than 4 inches from Aug. 21 to Aug. 24. That was more than farmers wanted, especially if they were only slightly short of moisture.
Dazey, in east-central North Dakota, received 3.35 inches on Aug. 23, the most of any reporting station monitored by the North Dakota Ag Weather Network. Farmers in the area wanted moisture, but that was too much.
"We went from being a little on the dry side to being the wet spot. That’s farming, though," said Jim Broten, a Dazey farmer.
The heavy rain will "cause some loss on the small grains. But I think that will be more than made up with the gain on the corn and soybeans," he said.
"At least that’s what I’m hoping. You always need to be optimistic in farming," Broten said.
Too much rain
Some areas near Minot, in northwest North Dakota, received about 3 inches of rain Aug. 23 and 24. That followed an inch or so of rain that fell a week earlier. In Dunn County, some reported as much as 10 inches.
So much moisture shut down small grain harvest temporarily, said Paige Brummond, Ward County extension agent.
Her county has been unusually wet in recent years, and many fields there began this growing season with plentiful moisture. That, combined with the rain that fell the week before the Aug. 23 and 24 precipitation, limited the need in corn and soybeans for more moisture, she said.
Only 10 percent of North Dakota’s spring wheat had been harvested by Aug. 24, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the previous five years, an average 43 percent of the state’s spring wheat was harvested by Aug. 24.
Wheat harvest also is less advanced than usual in South Dakota and Minnesota, a reflection of the wet spring that delayed planting.
Minnesota farmers had harvested 22 percent of their spring wheat on Aug. 24. The five-year average is 66 percent.
South Dakota producers had harvested 57 percent of their spring wheat on Aug. 24. The five-year average is 87 percent.
In Montana, where planting delays were less common, farmers had harvested 35 percent of spring wheat on Aug. 24. The five-year average is 34 percent.
The Upper Midwest’s corn and soybean crops generally were in good shape on Aug. 24, NASS reported:
Corn — 78 percent was rated good or excellent in North Dakota; 72 percent good or excellent in South Dakota; 71 percent good or excellent in Minnesota.
Soybeans — 75 percent good or excellent in North Dakota; 71 percent good or excellent in South Dakota; 66 percent good or excellent in Minnesota.
It’s unclear whether the rains of Aug. 23 and 24 will increase the percentage of crops rated good or excellent when NASS releases updated numbers on Sept. 2.
But farmers say the overall crop was deteriorating and that without the Aug. 23 and 24 rains, the percentage of crops rated good or excellent on Sept. 2 would have declined.