Planting season a little later than ideal, but no cause to worry yet

A farmer in northwest Pipestone County plants soybeans Saturday, May 6. With soil temperatures finally warm enough, many farmers were rushing over the weekend to get crops in the ground before predicted rains could interrupt their progress. C. Prunty

Farmers in southwest Minnesota have spent a lot of time in their fields during the last week or two, as soil temperatures are finally staying above that 50-degree mark that allows corn to germinate.

“Soil temps are just starting to be fit for corn germination,” said Melissa Runck, Extension educator in ag production systems for Pipestone and Murray counties. “The last couple weeks, our air temperatures have not been over 50 degrees for a while and staying over 50 overnight. But, the extended forecast looks like we shouldn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

For many it has felt like a late start to the season, Runck said, but it’s actually just a couple weeks off from ideal planting dates. In fact, said Eva Kramer, county executive director of the USDA-Farm Service Agency in Pipestone and Rock counties, some thought planting would begin even later this year, but many farmers have made “huge progress” in the last week.

For crop insurance purposes, the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) only allows farmers in this area to begin planting corn April 11 and soybeans April 21 if they want to maintain full RMA crop protection. RMA also has a deadline for planting: According to UMN Extension, for most of Minnesota, the final planting date for corn is May 31 and, for soybeans, June 10.

Right now, farmers are well within the time-frame shown to produce great yields. According to the University of Minnesota (UMN) Extension website, studies in Lamberton between 1988 and 2011 have shown that corn yields stay at 95 percent and above when planted by May 15. The more recent study shows that yields can drop to 79 percent if the corn is not planted until June 9.

“At this point there doesn’t seem to be a negative effect (from the later start),” Kramer said. “We are still hopeful for a good crop year.”

As they look to begin planting, farmers are also aware of the soil in each of their individual fields. Lighter, sandier soils can drain excess water and warm up faster than denser soils, making them ready for planting sooner. While the area did not see much flooding this spring, it did receive a good dose of snow and some rain. According to, the website of the National Integrated Drought Information System, all of Pipestone County and the surrounding area is “abnormally dry,” but it’s not in a drought right now. To the south, portions of Nobles, Jackson and Martin counties are experiencing moderate drought.

Runck said, from her own observations and chats with farmers this spring, the consensus is that fields are not as wet as farmers expected after all the snow and rain.

“All the moisture we got, it filled in the cracks in the soil and it’s not as wet as I think the people maybe thought it was going to be,” she said. “We’re getting closer to normal. It’s still going to take some pretty good rains, basically to get that moisture level in the soil back to where it would have been three years ago.”

Kramer agreed that, unless we continue to get rain, southwest Minnesota could experience drought again this year.

“It is still dry out there so drought may still come into play,” she said, “if we don’t get moisture soon.”