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Early snowstorm fails to derail strong harvest

Despite an early snowfall, local farmers are still feeling confident that when all is said and done, a 2020 harvest that ranks among the most productive in recent years will still be strong.

Tuesday saw an unseasonably early snowfall, with roughly a half-foot of snow dumped on the region. In Faribault, the city was forced to declare a snow emergency after being hit by one of the largest October snowfalls on record.

Fortunately, most area farmers report that their soybeans were out of the ground. According to the state’s latest Crop Progress and Condition report, released on Monday, 96% of beans were harvested across the state by last week. This year’s bean harvest came unusually early, thanks to an early planting and strong growing season. Last year, a late start pushed back the bean harvest a full month compared to this year, and this harvest is also three weeks ahead of the five-year average.

The early storm made the successful and efficient spring planting an even more fortunate break than it had been before, said Bridgewater Township farmer Mike Ludwig. Were a significant number of beans still out in the field, they would have been significantly damaged by the storm.

Unlike corn, Ludwig noted that beans are about impossible to combine with snow on the ground. In addition, beans have a tendency to swell back up and soften if hit with a significant amount of moisture, but need to be dry to harvest.

While beans may be out of the ground, there’s still plenty of corn left to harvest. According to the crop report, only about 63% of corn was harvested by last week statewide, and Richland Township farmer Jim Purfeerst suggested the local number might be slightly lower.

As with the beans, corn got in the ground early and that 63% figure is well ahead of both last year and the five-year average at this point on the calendar. Still, University of Minnesota Agriculture Extension Educator Claire LaCanne worries that time could be lost due to the storm.

“The snow will definitely delay our harvest,” she said. “The ground needs to dry up a little bit.”

Walcott Township farmer Tom Donkers said that the storm has effectively brought operations to a standstill that will remain until the snow melts. While his beans are out, Donkers said that he still has a long way to go with the corn.

LaCanne said that the next few weeks of weather will be particularly crucial. The warmer and drier the upcoming weather is, the sooner farmers will be able to get out into their fields and finish their harvest. On that front, the weather forecast isn’t terribly promising. According to local weather forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperatures are likely to hover around freezing over the upcoming week, with precipitation likely to return over the weekend.

Area farmers remain grateful for a growing season that has been friendly overall and optimistic that a strong finish is still within reach. Markets have also strengthened notably over the last several months, particularly for corn and beans.

A major factor in the market’s improvements has been more steadiness on the trade front. After several years of trade conflicts, the U.S. reached a Phase One Trade Deal with China in January and also completed negotiations on the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Free Trade Agreement. The trade deal included a commitment to significant ag purchases, which the Chinese have followed through on, providing a particularly strong boost to the soybean market. Corn prices meanwhile have reached their highest levels in more than a year.

While the local harvest hasn’t been spectacular, Ludwig said it’s been more than solid. Until now, growing conditions were strong and with regard to markets, local corn and bean farmers are benefiting from an overall reduction in crop supply nationwide.

“Yields have been respectable,” he said. “We got a nice early start to spring and it’s been a good growing season.”

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