Well-timed rains arrive

Minnesota corn crop progress—week of May 10

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Minnesota corn producers faced challenges from low air temps and frost this week. It may take a few more weeks into the growing season to assess the extent of frost damage. On the positive side, temperatures moderated and timely rains arrived and appear to be erasing mild topsoil moisture deficits across the state.

More than an inch of accumulated rainfall hit across the southern tier where places like Marshall were 1.47 inches below normal for the season according to USDA’s crop progress report, as of Sunday. Mankato was behind 1.67 inches, and Winona was behind 1.03 inches before the arrival of rains on Monday and Tuesday. 

“We’re in great shape in this part of Minnesota,” said Gerald Tumbleson who farms in Sherburn, a few miles from the Iowa border in south central Minnesota. “The warm weather that’s due next week is what we are waiting for. The soils are not quite saturated. The rains have been perfect, not too heavy. You need the water distributed well and the weather has done it perfectly.”

DeVonna Zeug, president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association, farms with her husband Tom in Redwood County, in south central Minnesota. They have been done with corn planting for some time but have delayed soybean planting because of the possibility of cooler weather—which proved to be a valid approach. The frost has impacted the corn that has come up, but Zeug is hopeful that the damage will be minimal.

“The frost did kill off the top stuff, but the growing point is still under the ground,” Zeug said. “It may effect the stands–it’s a waiting game right now to see how much the corn has been set back…We are getting some rain, which is much needed. It’s been over an inch in the last few days, and it all went down right into the ground, and left nothing standing. Mother Earth took it right in.”

By Sunday, observers from USDA estimate 94 percent of Minnesota’s corn crop had been planted. This compares to a five-year average of 64 percent by this date. Thanks to the early planting this year, as much as a third of corn plants have emerged. In the western central and northwestern regions the cold temperatures had an impact.

“The early corn froze hard–not all the corn was up,” said Jerry Larson, a farmer in Elbow Lake, Minnesota. “We had an inch of rain this week. Planting conditions were ideal, crop planting was going full speed ahead, the sugar beets did not freeze. We’ll have to take a stand count when all the corn is up. Studies show frost reduces yield by four percent. We should be okay though, because the growth point for the corn is below the surface.”

Though low temperatures can be a danger, earlier corn plant dates in general correlate with higher plant-per-acre populations and greater yield per acre. And the outlook for the near term looks very good for corn crop progress.

“This coming week is supposed to be good, warmer, sunny weather,” said Larson. We haven’t had any major downpours just a nice steady rain. We haven’t had many growing degree units yet, and that’s what we really need now.”

Growing degree units are calculated by adding the daily minimum and maximum temperatures (in the range of 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and subtracting 50 degrees—the average soil temperature at which crops can grow. In Minnesota, growing degree units have been accumulating since April 23 (estimated average beginning germination date this year). In the west central region the cool weather has left growing degree units behind by 30 to 60 units, but it is early yet and the sunny weather next week could entirely erase that deficit.  Across the southern tier, growing degree units are right around the average—ranging above or below by not more than a dozen units in most locations.


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