MN Planting 2017: Reason for optimism

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

If USDA estimates prove true, farmers will plant 450,000 fewer acres of corn in Minnesota while increasing soybean acres by around 700,000 acres. The total state planting in these principal crops will be 8 million acres and 8.25 million for corn and soybeans, respectively.

According to the USDA, corn planted area nationwide for all purposes in 2017 is estimated at 90.0 million acres, down 4 percent from last year.

As of April 17, planting of oats, wheat, sugar beets and potatoes have made significant progress in Minnesota, but corn producers have yet to begin. That may change this weekend.

“We have already had some fertilizer applied and we are targeting the end of the week to start planting corn,” reports Harold Wolle, who farms with his son, Matthew, near St. James. “We’re hoping if we get some sunshine today and Saturday we can get started this weekend.”

In West Central Minnesota, wet and cold ground conditions are keeping corn producers in a holding pattern.

“It really goes back to the rain we got last year—we got 10 inches in August, so we were wet going into harvest and we never really dried out over the winter,” says Chad Willis, who farms in Wilmar.

While Wolle plans to somewhat vary from his 50-50 split between corn and soybeans by planting a little more of the latter, Willis will stick with a down-the-middle split, citing the current infrastructure on his farm as best set up for corn.

Wolle, who serves as president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, points to the convergence of environmental concern and economic sustainability for farmers as another cause for optimism.

Cover crops hold great promise in the continued quest for increasing production while preserving soil and protecting water quality. Experts believe the number of acres planted to cover crops alongside cash crops will continue to increase this year in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC) is funding research on how to best get cover crops established, make them beneficial to cash crop yields and maximize their benefit to the environment by soaking up excess nutrients. However, growing cover crops along with primary crops requires a new mindset for farmers.

“When you start introducing cover crops that grow right along with your primary crop, that’s something that we are not used to doing,” Wolle says. “So, it’s going to take some adjustment, but I think it holds some real potential on the production side, as well as for the stewardship of our natural resources.”

Willis, who serves as chairman of MCR&PC, says research into value-added products continues to be another cause for optimism for farmers and rural development in general.

“We are searching continually for value-added products that could be a home run like ethanol,” says Willis “We’re investing in many avenues of research, hoping one of them hits.”

Though low commodity prices continue to depress farm income, Wolle, Willis and many others remain optimistic.

“If a farmer is not optimistic in the spring, he had better find a new occupation,” Wolle says. “This is the time when everything starts out perfectly. If we get a good seed bed and we get those seeds in the ground, it’s as good as it’s ever going to be. We take our highs and our lows as the growing season proceeds, but at the start it’s the perfect time to be optimistic.”

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