Another winter storm pummeled the Midwest early this week, further delaying and complicating an already grueling harvest. Photo courtesy of Paul Overby
EVANSVILLE, Ind., Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Farmers across the Midwest were fighting Wednesday -- through snow and freezing temperatures -- to harvest their crops.
"We're way behind," said Jim Zook, the executive director of the Michigan Corn Growers Association. "But, farmers will continue to harvest until there is nothing left in the fields. I expect there will be farmers out harvesting into next year."
As of Tuesday, only 66 percent of the nation's corn has been harvested, and 85 percent of the soybeans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest crop progress report. By contrast, the national average for this week each year is 85 percent of the corn and 92 percent of the soybeans.
Early this week, an arctic storm brought snow and freezing weather to the Midwest, further complicating an already difficult harvest.
Farm experts say that both crops may be harvested during freezing temperatures, and even snow. However, that kind of weather can easily reduce quality and yields. And, in some cases, it can ruin entire crops.
"It just depends," said Nathan Fields, the National Corn Growers Association's vice president of production and sustainability. "If the ground freezes in the upper Midwest, that is actually helpful. Corn is pretty resilient -- it can handle the cold. And if the ground freezes then the large equipment can drive on it."
Problems arise if the weather warms enough to thaw the standing snow and ice, which is forecast to happen beginning Wednesday.
Soybeans are a little less resilient to snow and freezing temperatures, Fields added. The excess moisture could pop open their pods, causing the beans to mold or dumping them on the ground. And a heavy snow pack could smash the plants, making them impossible to pick up with a tractor.
"Really cold weather is almost good for soybeans," said Brent McArtor, an agronomist with the Iowa Soybean Association. "It acts just like your refrigerator and stops the beans decaying."
But snow is not good, he said.
"The forecast says it's going to start warming up," McArtor said. "That will melt the snow, and the beans will suck up all that moisture."
Beans -- and corn -- must be dry to store properly. Otherwise, the can form mold and spoil.
It's been a grueling year for growers throughout the country's interior. In the spring, historically heavy rains pummeled much of the Midwest region -- a more than 850,000-square-mile area.
When it was time to plant, many fields were flooded, and yet more were too muddy for tractors to drive on. Planting was delayed in some areas by more than a month. And late planting means a late harvest.
"Then right as we were reaching harvest time, we got another batch of rain," Zook said.
Fields throughout the upper Midwest remained too wet to harvest well into October, when the season's first blizzard blanketed the region. The storm delayed harvest yet more, and delivered more moisture to already wet fields.
This week's storm threatened to do the same.
"There are still beans out there," said Roger Wuthrich, a corn and bean grower in southeast Iowa. "They'll be wet. They're going to have to dry out again before they can be harvested."
Wuthrich finished harvesting his soybeans a week ago, he said. He hopes to bring in the rest of his corn this week.
"We're behind," he said. "It was a really wet crop, so we had to go slower this year and wait for it to dry out. It's a lot of stress right now, but I think we'll be OK."
Others are less fortunate.
Conditions were so bad in Minnesota that Gov. Tim Walz asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare an agricultural disaster, freeing up emergency loans for struggling producers and opening the door to other types of aid.
"Our producers are hardworking, but due to extreme weather conditions, many were unable to harvest their crop this fall," Walz said in a letter to Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue. "The unrelenting and unprecedented weather patterns are producing poor yields and causing crops to rot in the field."
The USDA has already approved a similar disaster declaration for North Dakota, where crops already have been lost to severe weather.
The North Dakota's Red River Valley, which produces around 40 percent of the nation's red potatoes, lost roughly 30 percent of its crop this year, said Mike Torgerson, the CEO of Associated Potato Growers, a potato cooperative in the Red River Valley.
"We got about 60 percent of our crop in," Torgerson said. "It's very bad."