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After all of the rain that has fallen on the Perham area, delays in planting, muddy soil and standing water in fields have created a string of headaches for local farmers. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

Miserable planting, haying season for local farmers: June is wettest on modern record in MN

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Some people enjoy listening to raindrops tip-tapping on a window. After the spring that most Minnesotans have endured, and the way this summer has started, those individuals are likely becoming the minority.

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If any group is positively exasperated and exhausted by the never-ending moisture, it’s area farmers and those in agriculture-related professions.

Tip – another day that hay has to stay on the ground, losing nutritional value.

Tap – crops drowning in wet, saturated soil.

Tip – soggy pastures causing hoof rot in cows and sheep.

Tap – farmers opting to work around low, saturated parts of fields rather than wait for drier conditions.

“I’m probably like a lot of guys,” said Tony Peeters, who has dairy farmed near Butler for more than 40 years. “It’s been exceptionally wet – one of the wettest springs in my career.”

Haying was three weeks late this year, and some of his fields hadn’t been planted yet as of this week. Peeters said he might still plant some corn to be chopped for silage, since it will not have time to fully mature before winter.

“That’s about all we can plant anymore,” he said.

This is the third difficult year in a row for area farmers. In 2012, the spring planting season came early, but was followed by a summer drought that damaged production.

Similar to this spring, the 2013 growing season was also marked by a wet, late start that hampered field work and crop growth. Now, farmers are starting to feel the pinch.

“We buy a lot of feed anyway,” said Peeters, so he hasn’t had it as tough as some. But, since the drought in 2012, he said he’s noticed a spike in the prices he pays – especially for hay.

Near Perham, Dave Guehna has had a similarly difficult start to the year.  

“Oh boy, oh boy… where do I start?” Guehna wondered. “In all the years I’ve done this, this is the most drawn out planting season I’ve ever seen.”

He’s raised crops and worked with Professional Agronomy in Perham (and its predecessors) doing crop spraying since 1977.

Guehna said he knew of farmers who began planting corn in late April, and others who were still putting corn in the ground on June 30 for silage, similar to Peeters.

“There was such a small planting window,” said Guehna of the prime weather and ground conditions for field work.

Guehna has had difficulty with haying, as well, and has seen it around the area.

“Putting up dairy-quality hay has not been easy,” Guehna said. “Normally, the first cutting of hay is harvested around May 24 to 28. A lot of farmers are still working on first crop.”

“I can’t even get to my hay field,” he said, or else the haybine will get mired down and stuck.

The effects of over-abundant moisture have affected other crops, as well.

Roots are growing shallowly, rather than digging deep for water reserves, said Guehna. In other fields with deeper water, the plants are being starved for oxygen. Kidney beans are succumbing to root rot. Soybeans have not had enough sunlight for photosynthesis to produce energy to grow.

“(Constantly wet) weather like this is very conducive for disease, like white mold on soy and kidney beans,” Guehna said.

Livestock producers have felt a different sort of pressure through the winter and spring.

“It was really a brutal winter,” said Peeters. “A long, cold winter. When you have extreme weather, that takes more feed than normal.”

“Spring has been hard on the cattle, too,” Peeters continued, speaking of his muddy pasture. “I don’t think it’s dried since the snow melted.”

Wet footing has led to issues with hoof rot in the herd.

And then, there are the herbicide treatment programs.

Guehna said the weather has been difficult for crop spraying with the big machines. Either it’s too wet, or too windy: neither is safe when applying chemicals.

The other day, he said, seven sprayers were working in the Corliss and Butler Township areas. They got stuck about 15 times, up to 2-1/2 feet deep, in the sodden fields with clay-based dirt. Other sandier fields have not been as problematic, since they dry out faster.

Near Underwood and Fergus Falls is “really bad too,” Guehna said.

Talk about the weather is not just farmyard drama this year.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in a recent Climate Journal entry, after averaging preliminary monthly rainfall data throughout the state, “we can state with confidence that June 2014 was Minnesota's wettest June, and wettest month, of the modern record.”

“The state-averaged monthly rainfall record was established because of the broad geographic extent of the heavy rainfall,” the entry continued. Final totals were not compiled by press time on Tuesday; however, “it is certain that the state-averaged monthly rainfall total will top eight inches.”

The previous record, which was set in July of 1897 and tied in June 1914, was 7.32 inches in a month.

Individual weather-station records for June rainfall were also set all across the state: from Luverne, Minn., in the south, to International Falls, Minn., on the Canadian border.

For now, at least, prices being paid to farmers are good, Peeters said. It’s a bright spot. “Crops have been frustrating because of the weather, but milk prices have been just terrific.”

 “I’ve been doing this long enough… You just kind of have to roll with it, is how I look at it,” said Peeters, noting that, so far, the Perham area has avoided severe, damaging weather. “It could always be worse.”

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