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Farmers watching soil temps before planting

Published 10:03am Friday, April 25, 2014

Spring arrived slowly this year, but it is sooner than last year.

Southern Minnesota had 5 inches of snow on the ground last year at this time and the air temperature was averaging 34 degrees. Albert Lea and Owatonna even had a snowstorm deliver a foot or more of the white stuff on May 1 and 2.

Knock on wood.

This year has a different story, but it wasn’t a complete swing in the other direction. December, January, February and March of this winter all ranged from 5 to 13 degrees colder than normal, according to Thomas Hoverstad, a scientist at the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca.

Farmers are looking for soil temperatures of 50 degrees or warmer before they plant corn.

This week, air temperature was slightly cooler than normal, while precipitation was slightly above normal, he said. Actual temperature averaged 48.1 degrees, 0.3 degree less than normal. Rainfall totaled 0.89 inch or 0.14 inch above normal. Soil temperature at the two-inch depth averaged 46.7 degrees, which is 3.4 degrees cooler than normal. Soil temperature at the 4-inch depth averaged 43.3 degrees, or about six degrees cooler than normal.

Soil moisture measurements taken on April 15 indicate that the region has 10.16 inches of available moisture in the top five feet of soil, Hoverstad said.

“This is slightly above normal. There was still some frost at the two-foot depth causing water to stay near the surface instead of draining through the profile. This made the top soil much wetter than normal,” he said.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture maintains a soil temperature monitor at Gordonsville. This morning, the soil temperature at the 6-inch depth was 45 degrees. It had climbed up to 53 degrees on Monday afternoon and again Tuesday afternoon, but since has declined with the cloudy skies. It was reading 38 degrees in the early morning as recently as last Friday.