A harvest of concern
By Greta Petrich
Alexandria Echo Press
Fields of corn still stand where plowed fields should be surfacing - that's just one of the problems facing area farmers as they push to get crops out after an unseasonably wet October.
At best it's going to be an average year, according to Jim VonWahlde, agronomy manager at the Osakis Creamery.
He reported local field conditions have been terrible after a very wet October provided perfect conditions for mold in the local corn crops.
"Quality of crops is going to be a big issue," he said. "The crop prices aren't terrible and some yields are better than average, but expenses are up."
The trouble actually dates back to planting season, when many crops planted layed in dry dirt - some for up to a month, VonWahlde explained.
"Some are looking at three different emergent times for a crop," he said. "Now you've got mature corn with hardly any mold right next to immature corn with a lot of mold. It proves challenging for drying."
Corn moisture has been reported anywhere from 22 percent all the way to 40 percent. Typically, moisture within mature corn kernels is around 32 percent. Because of this, nearly every farmer now has the added burden of drying their crops.
A typical season includes drying conditions that remove moisture naturally, resulting in farmers harvesting their crop at 18 to 20 percent with no mold, according to Lisa Behnken, Univeristy of Minnesota extension educator in crops.
"The corn is wet, the husks are wet and the conditions are terrible. Mold has had a perfect opportunity to grow," she said. "Approximately 100 percent [of the corn crop] is affected by mold in some degree."
VonWahlde explained that while most of the corn has mold, a very small amount of it is toxic.
Mold shows up on corn in different colors - black or green mold is more of a surface mold and a nuisance while a red or pink mold is toxic.
With this level of mold, farmers still have options, according to VonWahlde who said drying corn at temperatures above 180-degree kills mold for the most part. He also noted those with high-moisture corn can treat it with a propionic acid that will neutralize the mold.
In the feed world, some mold can produce myotoxins, resulting in problems for dairy cattle.
Along with the corn crop, other grains are affected by the strange growing season.
While soybeans are usually out of the fields in October, many area farmers are burning the midnight oil to get them out of the ground only to find they also require drying.
This crop typically harvests at 13 to 14 percent moisture but this year the numbers have jumped to 20 to 24 percent.
"You normally don't dry soybeans," VonWahlde said. "That's just another hit on their profit."
As of November 19, about 90 percent of the beans and 40 percent of the area corn crops had been harvested.
Weather permitting, VonWahlde believes the majority of local farmers will have their crops wrapped up by Thanksgiving.
"Farmers are pretty resilient," he said. "They can get it done."