BIG LAKE FARMER LARRY IRWIN (right) and his son Paul take a short break while harvesting corn on their field off Co. Rd. 43 last Sunday. (Photo by Ken Francis.)

Changing weather nothing new for farmers

Staff Writer
Ken Francis


After one of the best harvests in memory last year, farmers in Sherburne County have been dealing with unpredictable weather this planting and growing season.
“We had everything working for us last year,” says Big Lake farmer Larry Irwin. “We had the price, we had the yield and we didn’t have to dry. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect crop.”
Irwin, who with his two sons plants and harvests soybeans and corn, has seen his yields “all over the place” this season, depending on soil conditions.
His soybean yield on 275 acres varied greatly. While his irrigated fields yielded between 50 and 60 bushels an acre, the dry corners of those same fileds that the irrigators didn’t reach yields between 10 and 12 bushels per acre.
That’s because a seven-week drought that saw about a half inch of rain dried up the sandy soil in Sherburne County. In Wright County where he rents cropland in ‘heavy soil’, his yield was about 45 bushels an acre on non-irrigated land.
He also harvests about 400 acres of corn and has seen yields over 200 bushels an acre on irrigated land.
“I haven’t done any of my own on dry land yet,” he says.
He and his sons spent last weekend, Monday and Tuesday trying to get the corn harvested before the snow that was predicted. The area got about two to three inches Tuesday night. He’s about two-thirds finished.
“Now I’m going to have to wait until the snow melts and hopefully it doesn’t freeze right behind it,” he says. “It freezes the stalks down that went down in the wind last Sunday.”
Unusual weather has plagued farmers since early spring. Snow and cold temperatures in May kept many farmers from planting on schedule.
“All in all, potatoes were planted timely, but they weren’t planted as early as we normally plant potatoes,” says Jean Johnson, program technician with the Sherburne County Farm Services Agency (FSA).
Then the potato harvest saw a delay because of rainy weather that hit just at the wrong time.
“The crop was good. But getting to harvest them at the normal time was delayed because of weather,” she says. “It was a long and drawn out process. A lot of growers like to be done by Labor Day. There were some potatoes harvested later in September, but a week to 10 days longer than normal.”
The FSA reports there were 5,900 acres of potatoes, 14,000 acres of soybeans and 34,000 acres of corn planted in Sherburne County this year, mostly on irrigated land.
About 95% of beans had been harvested by late last week. Corn was between 15% and 25% harvested.
Norm Johnson of Triple J Farms in Becker says they’ve got irrigated and non-irrigated land, and the difference in yields is huge this year. Soybean yields in their irrigated land are topping 50 bushels an acre.
“The dryland beans that I combined went from six to 10 bushels an acre,” he says. “They can go as high as 25. But this is about as poor as I’ve seen it.”
The corn harvest was going well, with an average between 214 and 239 bushels an acre. As of late last week they still had between 600 and 700 acres of corn to harvest.
Johnson, now 80, says he’s seen some tough drought years when the sandy soils dried out.
“I’ve gone through that so many times,” he says. “That’s why we got into irrigating in 1974.”
Now if the weather cooperates and the snow melts and dries up, farmers can get the rest of their crops done. The forecast calls for clearing skies and temperatures in the 40s.
“We need a good day of sunshine,” says Irwin.


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