No rain, weak yield

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 6, 2003

Charlie Kermes’ yields will probably be down about one third from where they normally are at this time of year.

&uot;It hasn’t been a great year,&uot; said Kermes, 66, who was born and raised on the 350 acre Hayward farm. &uot;But we’ve definitely had drier years.&uot;

Kermes is among many Minnesota farmers for whom the dry weather has taken a toll on their crops. The statewide problem pushed Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his office to consider asking for federal disaster relief, something some other states have already done. In a preliminary list of counties eligible for the relief 49 were named. To be eligible a county must have yield loss of at least 30 percent on one crop. Freeborn and Faribault counties are included, but Steele and Mower weren’t.

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The relief would give farmers low interest loans.

Kermes has crop insurance. He doesn’t think he’ll be taking any of the loans. Many area farmers haven’t been vocal about getting a loan from the grant. But that may change at harvest time.

According to Brian Jacobs, regional manager for the North Country Co-op, farmers began making comments about the drought a few weeks ago. But they’d been positive prior to that.

&uot;We had a lot of optimism until the third week of July,&uot; he said. &uot;But then we’ve had many places in the county have haven’t gotten much of any rain in the last month.&uot;

As he spoke by phone, one Freeborn county farmer shouted that he hadn’t had rain in 58 days.

Most farmers in the county have had better moisture than that, but, Jacobs said, it’s still dry.

Jacobs is expecting the county average to be around 35 bushel per acre for soybeans. In an average year it would be 50 or better per acre. For corn he expects that farmers will get anywhere from as low as 100 bushel to 150 bushel per acre. The average is around 180.

But the problem isn’t so much that the plants are drying out, but that their growth is so uneven.

Kermes walked through his field, pointing out that some parts were maturing faster than others.

&uot;Usually, the whole field turns together,&uot; he said, taking beans off of one plant and munching on them to test their ripeness. &uot;These right here are almost ready.&uot;

Some bean plants were brown, and without leaves: Nearly primed for harvest. Others were green and leafy: Still to immature to be harvested.

Last year was one of the best years his 67 year old farm has had. This year he’s hoping he can get at least 2/3 of what he’d get in an average year.

&uot;You never know until you get out there with the combine,&uot; he said.

Doug Holen, who specializes in crop production for the extension service in Fergus Falls, said it’s not a complete crop failure. He said that over the last few years corn yields have been excellent, so when a year like this one comes around it makes it look worse than it probably is.

&uot;The drought has taken its toll,&uot; Holen said. &uot;Any rain we get now will help those fields that aren’t real moisture-stressed, and it’ll help the alfalfa, and it’ll just be moisture that we can start recharging our soil for the 2004 season. So it’s not too late to get rain yet.&uot;

Some farmers are already turning their sights on next spring.

Kevin Connelly, 37, farms about 500 acres in Olmsted County. &uot;You got to be an optimist to be in this business. We’re going to look forward to next year and just assume that it’s going to be better.&uot;

The Associated Press contributed to this story

(Contact Peter Cox at or 379-3439.)