Filed under: Corn, Farm, GMO, Minnesota, planting, rain, seasons, snow, Soybeans, spring, tillage, time, Trees, weather, winter | Tags: climate, Corn, farm, Minnesota, Planting, rain, snow, Soybeans, spring, summer, weather
Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist, reports that 55.82% of the country still in drought. “But we’ve knocked out the eastern Corn Belt.” While the country at large had some pretty good rains from November through January, we haven’t had much relief until this week in the Midwest, he says. Weather is personal, you may feel fine that your area is now out of the drought, or very concerned if you are still in a severe to extreme drought area like I am here in Southwestern Minnesota. The next few months are going to be critical for our area crops.
We’ve had very little snow in our area this winter, and what we have had has been a dry type of snow. Snow falling on frozen ground does little to recharge the subsoil moisture, and that is where we need water. Without gentle long term rains, we will have our crops come up and then die.
Last fall we did some digging in the fields. This digging left me concerned for the 2013 crop. There is so little water in the top 4 feet of the soil profile that I wonder how roots will get down to the little bit that is below 4 feet. Compound that with the needed tillage to get our crops started, tillage that will dry out those top few inches, and we could be in real trouble.
Our area of Minnesota usually needs drainage tile to dry it out so that we can actually get tillage done. Depending if your soil is more clay, sand or rock, you will have more or less water in it. Organic matter, sometimes called loam, from old roots and buried plant stalks also plays a part in the water holding ability of soil. Our soil varies from heavy and wet clay loam to almost pure sand. Sandy ground takes near continuous rain since water runs right through it, while clay soils tend to hold water tighter. In our area even the clay soils are dry.
Even deep rooted perennial crops like alfalfa and our younger trees are showing the stress. Our late season alfalfa last year was a disaster, and I have several evergreen trees that are dropping their needles. These are not good signs for an available water source.
The only bright spot in the planting season is the advent of more drought resistant varieties. Choice of drought tolerant varieties of field crops along with genetic modifications that help to control root pruning insects and encourage root growth may just give our corn and soybeans a chance to get down to that deep water. This is going to be a real test. I know that we now plant corn and soybean varieties that are so much better than when I started farming, but I still worry.
So now we wait and see. A third year of dry weather would be very unusual, but the whole climate seems to be changing. We have been moving away from long gentle rains to rapid downpours. Rapid rains do not stay on the land, long gentle ones do. If these dry conditions persist we may have to rethink the crops we grow in this area. Time will tell.
Filed under: cold, Ice, Minnesota, rain, School bus, snow, travel, weather, Wildlife, winter | Tags: cold, deer, Minnesota, nature, rain, school bus, snow, travel, weather, wildlife deer, winter
My early morning bus route yielded another close encounter of the deer kind, both deer and bus are OK.
My bus route follows the Des Moines river out of town and crosses the river twice, and several of it’s creek and marsh areas also. As I wend my way from house to house in the early morning darkness I’m always on the lookout for wildlife. Deer can be found anywhere along the route, but are most common in just a few areas. The warming weather has moved deer out of the protecting trees to forage in the fields. During the coldest weather I would see few if any deer, now it is not unusual to see 50 to 75 in a morning. Mostly they are back in the fields and grasslands, but sometimes they choose to cross the road right in front of the bus.
The rain of two weeks ago had left the roads covered in ice. The county and state maintained roads had been cleared after just a few hours, but the gravel township roads have been ice covered for too long. Coming to a stop at a stop sign has been hazardous, and sometimes starting again after stopping is difficult. Any kind of an incline can keep you from moving forward. Yesterdays warm temperatures and south wind finally removed most of the ice from the gravel and I’m hoping the forecast warm temperatures will finish the job this week.
We have more snow forecast for the weekend. It’s not that I want snow, but we are so short of moisture in the fields that I will take anything. The local weather people say we have had 12 inches of snow so far this winter, but that translates into very little water. Several of our snows this year have looked very promising, but when melted down they have yielded little or no water.
Despite several very cold days we’ve had a good Minnesota winter. Travel has mostly been easy and schools have only had a few late starts and no cancellations. Here’s hoping for a bit more moisture before planting, and could it please be in rain, not ice or snow.
Filed under: cold, Fishing, house, Ice, Minnesota, snow, travel, weather | Tags: cold, cold minnesota winter, ice, icicle, icicles, icy roads, Minnesota, nature, rain, snow, transportation, travel, trees, weather, winter
I used to like ice. Going fishing on the ice with my grandfather, running and seeing how far you could slide on the ice, anything that was fun in winter was made more fun by ice. Now I’m older and ice doesn’t hold as much fun in it. I think of falling and getting hurt on the ice, of cars sliding on the ice, or braking through the ice, not fun activities in the cold Minnesota winter.
Some roads have gotten really bad this winter. We had some snow and rain, and now some really cold weather that turned un cleared roads and parking lots to polished ice. I’ve had several times where the rear of my vehicle tried to pass the front on ice in the last week. Especially bad are gravel roads, which are not a high priority for townships and counties to clear, but some city streets are bad also. Just think of coming down hill to a stop sign and putting on the brakes, only to have the vehicle start to slide almost onto the crossing road. Once you stop you now have to get moving, usually up hill, on that ice. Here’s my least favorite road of the week.
I do like icicles. I find it amazing how they can form even in very cold temperatures when a bit of sun comes out.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, Farm Bureau, Minnesota, rain, snow, Soybeans, travel, weather, winter | Tags: Agriculture education, climate, Corn, drought, farm, Farm Bureau, Minnesota, Nashville, rain, snow, Soybeans, travel, weather, winter
The 2013 American Farm Bureau meeting in Nashville allowed me to make a drive across the corn belt from my home in southwestern Minnesota. Of interest to me, as to most farmers were the conditions along the way, specifically water conditions.
In our area we are still in the grips of a drought. We have had very little moisture since June of 2012. Although our surface soil has some moisture, our subsoil is dry. This is really evident in our rivers, creeks and lakes. The Des Moines River, which is only a few miles from my home, is a mere trickle in its bed, creeks are mostly dry and lake levels are low. It was these items that I looked for as I drove to and from Nashville.
When we left home on January 10 the conditions were looking up. We have had several inches of snow, dry snow, but snow, over the last few months, and there was rain in the air. The hoped for rain only amounted to 4 hundredths of an inch, not enough to make a difference and snow has also been absent this month. As we drove south across Iowa, the story was the same. Little snow, low lakes and rivers.
Conditions improved a bit as we crossed the northeastern corner of Missouri. There was evidence of a bit of rain, and the rivers seemed to be running a bit better than further north. As we moved southeast the evidence of rain increased and there were even some places in Kentucky and Tennessee where water was standing in the fields. Rivers in these areas were running bank full, a fact which bodes well for the early part of the cropping season for them. It has also helped out barge traffic on the lower part of the Mississippi.
We arrived in Nashville to some really nice weather, temperatures in the 60′s and 70′s and sunshine. After those first two days the weather changed. Our last days in Nashville were cold and rainy. Mornings were icy, and temperatures rarely got over the mid 30′s, not good sight-seeing weather. During our stay they received about six inches of rain.
The entire Ohio river valley has been getting a good soaking this winter, but folks further north are not quite so fortunate. I would say that unless conditions change soon Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas are in for another dry year. This will not be good news for those who want to buy corn and soybeans in the coming months.
End users of the crops raised in the corn belt need rain to reduce the price of corn and soybeans. We are bleeding demand with each month that the prices stay high. The coming months are going to be very interesting for all of us in the midwest and plains states.
Filed under: cold, Farm, Minnesota, rain, seasons, time, Trees, weather | Tags: cold, colorado blue spruce, drought, drought stress, farm, Minnesota, nature, plants, rain, snow, trees, weather, winter
The drought toll talk in farm country has mostly centered on food and feed crops, but another effect of the drought is starting to show up, it’s the trees.
The spruce tree above is showing the stress of last summers drought. Needles are falling and the branches are getting bare. This is not how you expect a blue spruce to look in the winter.
This is more like what spruce branches should look like. This tree went into the winter with a bit more moisture underneath and should survive the winter. The needles are the healthy blue-green you would expect from a Colorado Blue spruce. The snows of a winter in southern Minnesota have slowed it down but not stopped it, and that is the problem, these trees are still trying to take up moisture from the frozen ground. When we get a warm winter day they try to grow a bit more. If they went into the winter under moisture stress they will not survive. These trees were planted together 30 years ago as 6 inch long seedlings. It will be a shame to lose any of them but it is obvious that not all of them went into winter with the same amount of water under them. Other evergreen trees are also showing stress, this is a red cedar that is in decline due to drought stress. Evergreens are the most likely to die when they go into the winter dry. Deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the fall do not suffer so much in the winter, but they also can go into winter looking a bit poor and not survive. Winter is hard on trees, and doubly hard when it is dry.
If you have evergreens you really cherish, I hope you watered them well last fall or you may lose them. You may still be able to save them by getting water into their roots early next spring. It is possible the damage may already have been done, only time will tell.
Filed under: Farm, Minnesota, rain, weather, weather wisdom | Tags: climate, farm, Minnesota, nature, New Years, onion forecast, onions, rain, rain forecast, weather
Four local folks placed their six halved and hollowed out onions in the basement New Years Eve to forecast the next years rainfall. After a teaspoon of salt is placed in each half, the onions are placed in two rows in either a cooler or in the basement. You need to have them in a cool place. The amount of water in each tells how much water each month will have. Although this is not an exact science, it has proven to be a good long-term look at our rainfall events.
So what is the forecast for 2013? Each onion half is labeled as having no water, a small amount, a medium amount, a lot of water, or running over.
April, very small to dry
August, very small
September, very small
October, small to dry
November, very small
Onions may forecast a different amount of water where you live, but for these four folks in my area, if looks as if we will be on the short side of the years rain showers. It’s not exact, but it is an idea.
Filed under: cold, Farm, Minnesota, rain, snow, tillage, weather, winter | Tags: cold, drought, fall tillage, farm, Minnesota, rain, snow, soil moisture levels, weather, winter
The winter of 2011/2012 went down in history as one of the driest we have experienced. The school calendar was not interrupted once by a snow storm. A year ago we had no snow on the ground and much above normal temperatures. Even two weeks ago we were experiencing some unusually warm temperatures.
As of today we have had several inches of snow fall with more on the way. I bought a new walk behind snow blower and have used it twice. We’ve had a school day that was delayed two hours because of snow and a Sunday afternoon/evening when we were glad we had nowhere to go because of the blowing snow outside. There have been several mornings where the thermometer has read below zero in the morning, and days where the high was in single digits. This is looking a bit more like the Minnesota winters I remember. Yet can we say that the drought has ended in our area.
I remember the 2011 crop year as being dry. The 2012 crop year started out wet, and yet we were really hurting for soil moisture when the 2012 crop year ended. Soil moisture levels are really low now. It is going to take a lot of moisture to get the soil water levels back up. Perhaps we can start that with some snow.
The problem with snow for soil recharge is that there really is not a lot of moisture in snow. An inch of snow yields a tenth of an inch or less of moisture. Also, snow falls on frozen ground. Winter snow fall is more likely to run off than to stay put in the soil it falls on. Leaving the ground rough after fall tillage can help to hold some of the moisture in small pockets, but still very little snow water stays where it falls. We are going to need some spring rains and timely summer showers to break the drought.
So a few snow flakes do not signal the end of the drought, but it is a hopeful sign.
Filed under: Corn, Farm, Minnesota, rain, Soybeans, tillage, weather, wind | Tags: climate, Corn, farm, Minnesota, nature, prairie, prairie soils, rain, Soybeans, trees, weather, wind
You never know what will come your way when you read reader comments. Since some of my faithful readers are a long ways away, some questions come up that I assume that everyone knows. Shame on me for not explaining earlier. So here is the question from todays comments.
“Hi Michael, I gather you practice dry farming techniques on your acreage. What is the primary irrigation source for drawing water? Is Southwestern Minnesota normally considered a separate climate zone from the lakes area to the north and east?”
When the Europeans came to this area they left behind the forests and moved into the prairie. Although the areas to the north and east of us were forested, in our area we are firmly in the prairie, only the riverbanks were forested here. Because of that we have the deep prairie soils that were built by deep-rooted grasses. We also are in a bit of a transition area for rainfall.
Average rainfall in this area is 21 to 23 inches, usually enough to grow a good crop of corn, soybeans or most any other crop. Unless the soils are sandy we usually keep that moisture in place with very little runoff. Thus there is no need for irrigation on the land we farm. The few irrigated acres we have in our area draw from a combination of wells and surface water, usually rivers.
Our weather is dictated by wind, the long prairie winds in our area make wind farms one of the new crops harvested in our area. There are areas near us where you can count over 100 of these large wind energy generators. The generators don’t have a large footprint so farmers are growing their crops around them.
The winds of this area of Minnesota helped move along the prairie fires that kept trees down and helped grasses compete. Thus trees only grew where protected by water. Although we do have some lakes in our area, the lakes region is generally considered to be north of us.
Since we are on the edge of a drier area we do all we can to keep our water when it falls. Our farmers are considered to be progressive in this area because if we do things wrong mother nature tells us fast. Many, but not all, farmers in this area use practices that hold plant material from the last years crops on the surface to provide a blanket that protects the soil from large rains and keep the moisture from evaporating.
Any other questions? Don’t be afraid to ask.
Filed under: Farm, Minnesota, rain, snow, weather, winter | Tags: drought, farm, Minnesota, rain, snow, soils, southwestern minnesota, spring rains, weather, winter
We’re facing the last warm days of fall and for now our drought may be locked in. We’ve had no fall rains to recharge our soils here in Southwestern Minnesota and with December in the near future our soils will be freezing soon.
The records say that there is only a 5% chance of a third dry year in a row, but we may be looking at the 5% if things do not change before planting in 2013. All we can do is wait.
Filed under: Ag education, Corn, Farm, harvest, Minnesota, rain, science, seasons, Soybeans, spring, weather | Tags: climate, Corn, drought, dry soil, farm, harvest, history, Minnesota, nature, Planting, rain, science, Soybeans, spring, weather
There has been a bit of talk lately of what this last years crop year was and what next years will be like. What is past is always a bit easier to know.
A month ago we started work on a new barn. Part of the process was to dig a rather large hole 4 feet deep. The clay under the top soil was dry. It made for some very easy digging. What does that have to do with next year and what does that say about this years crop.
Back in May a Minnesota Public Radio reporter talked to me about the prospects for the future with an early planting and a future of a very large crop. You can read that story here <http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/05/24/corn-crop-outlook/> When he asked me what I thought of the USDA prediction of a large crop, I laughed and said they were guessing. A few months later he came back to talk to me and the talk was not about a record crop and depressed prices, but of a short crop and prices at historically high levels for months now. That story is here <http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/11/15/business/2012-minnesota-crop-report/>
So much changed just weeks after the May interview and so much can change now. Historically we have only a 5% chance of a drought this next year, yet the least expected option often happens. So how do we get from dust to a banner crop? Rain.
We will get rain. If it is enough is not in our hands. I was blessed to be raised in a part of the country that has small chance of a drought, but much has changed in my lifetime. Centuries of man’s wanton waste of the energy resources of our earth have tipped us into new territory. I hesitate to try to predict the unpredictable.
In the meantime I will plan and prepare. The soil is here, I will protect it. The rain will fall, I will use what is given to me. The sun will shine and plants will use it. God willing there will be a harvest again next year.