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Oddball season isn’t over yet for farmers

Farmers’ hay stockpiles were depleted by feeding livestock through the extended winter. A good summer for alfalfa would have refreshed the supply; instead, farmers are having to feed from their new hay crop as a substitute for pasture grazing. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

The 2013 growing season has been one of extremes for area farmers.

It started with a long winter, turned into a soggy spring and then shifted into a dry summer, with a record-breaking week-long heat wave to top it all off.

“Every year is different,” said Denise Kane, President of Guardian Crop Insurance in Perham. “We’ve just had a lot more different this year.”

“We started out dry (in the winter),” said Kane. “Then, we got the moisture, but it would delay the planting even more. We only had about a week, week-and-a-half window that they could get in and get it planted.”

Many local farmers would say that “different” is an extreme understatement.

“It was like I had two plantings of corn this year – late, and really late,” said Kevin Dreyer, who farms near New York Mills.

He also finished planting wheat later than he ever had before.

Gene Zepper, who has a dairy farm near Perham, said his crops got started late because of the “winter that wouldn’t end.”

Both farmers have been affected by this summer’s weather, as well.

“I got missed by the hail, and caught a couple of rains that some didn’t,” said Dreyer.

But even with the extra bit of rain, he expects that the dry weather stressed his corn and “hurt my soybeans quite a bit.”

“My pasture is dry, just like most of the lawns in the area,” said Zepper.

He has been feeding dry hay to his pastured cows to make up for the lack of grass.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge problem, but of cours,e this year is “different.” When winter continued into the spring months, farmers needed to feed dry hay longer than usual. Snow-covered grass doesn’t grow very well.

Zepper said his first and second cuttings of hay were good, but the third didn’t amount to much. Feeding hay now “will put a pinch on the already tight supply,” he said.

Dreyer and Zepper are not the only ones with these problems.

“This spring started out with too much moisture,” said Charlie Guck, manager at Professional Agronomy Services in Perham. “Then, we had practically no rain for 60 days.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s drought monitor, all of Otter Tail County is currently under “abnormally dry” or “moderate drought” conditions.

“I’ve got an uncle who farms north of Perham,” Dreyer said. “He’s got very variable ground. What was planted on the heavy soil is looking good, but the lighter ground is just … fried. Done.”

“You can see it,” said Kane. “The irrigated crops are doing much better than the dry land. Of course, I’ve talked to several of my farmers who are irrigating and they say it’s not cheap to run those irrigators, either. Even though they’re getting the yield, they’re dealing with a whole lot of extra expense.”

The rain from this past Sunday and Monday came too late to improve most of the harvest for this year.

 “Most of the corn should be okay, as long as we don’t get a frost before Oct. 1,” said Guck. “It might be wet when combined, but at least it caught up some.”

After that, the farmers agreed, it’ll be time to start hoping next year isn’t quite as “different.”

Elizabeth Huwe