Farmers dealing with ‘unusual’ harvest this year

Tom Garleb of Valmeyer harvests corn from his land along Bluff Road in the Monroe County bottoms. (Alan Dooley photo)

It’s harvest time once again for Monroe County farmers, and what started with a promising wheat harvest this past spring has devolved into a year of variable results for corn and beans.

In a word, it’s unusual.

The good spring weather changed to dry weather through the corn and soybean growing season. And just as crops have started to reach harvest time, what would normally be a dry period has seen several rains that have slowed or even halted harvesting.

“Usually, farmers harvest corn and then soybeans,” Julie Zeiger of the Monroe County Farm Bureau pointed out. “This year, with recent rains, many are seeing corn come in late and are instead harvesting beans first. You wait. You watch. You hurry up.  Then you wait again.”

Farmers also must live with early choices without knowing how unknown factors will influence their outcome. They have to decide what to plant, what types of seeds to use, where and when. The right choices can result in very good harvests. The wrong ones can result in disaster.

“It can depend on location too,” Zeiger said. “We have land in the bottoms that has a lot of sand in it, and sandy soil drains well, but doesn’t hold water well.  So, beans we planted there didn’t have good supplies of water when it turned dry, and some just aren’t producing anything.

“Actually, farmers who chose drought resistant varieties are reaping benefits now with the two dry months we had ported a good harvest of corn from his land along Bluff Road in the bottoms.

“It looks like we may be getting about 220 bushels an acre up here,” he said.

He noted that some crops closer to the levee have not been as productive following flooding seen earlier this year.

As for beans, Larry Toenjes said he was very satisfied with the 55 to 57 bushels per acre yield he was harvesting from his field at the southwest corner of  Route 3 and FF Road.

Randy Braun, who heads operations at the Gateway FS loading facility at Kemper’s Landing on the Mississippi River, sees another face of farming.  Grain is loaded aboard barges there for shipment to export facilities on the Gulf Coast.

Braun used the word often heard about the 2013 harvest: “unusual.”

“We had the fourth highest flood in history this spring.  Today, the river is at minus 1.1 feet,” he said. “What that means is, instead of loading a barge to a 12-foot draft with 80,000 bushels of grain, we’re limited to nine feet and 55,000 bushels per barge. That means it takes more barges to ship less grain – and somebody pays for that.  Part of the cost falls on the farmer’s income.”

To further emphasize the impact of water depths on shipping, 60 percent of the nation’s entire agricultural exports travel past Monroe County on barges on the Mississippi River.

Finally, people who don’t farm may not be aware that next year’s crops are already being planted in many fields.  Almost immediately after harvesting beans, many farmers start planting wheat, which will emerge in green fields in the spring.

“An old saying is, ‘sewing in the dust… the bins will bust,’” Julie Zeiger said, smiling.

In other words, getting the wheat into the ground almost before the dust of harvest has settled should fill the grain bins to busting next spring… hopefully.

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