Everyone agrees: An extended break in the weather would be nice

SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA – It seems like field conditions can only go from one extreme to another in the area.

This spring, southwest Minnesota experienced drought conditions, and now, with fields under water and crops dying, farmers are hoping for a few dry days. To no one’s surprise, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s report released Thursday shows the entire state is drought-free.

“Right now we’d like a little bit of a dry stretch to get the water down stream,” said Scott Dubbelde, general manager of the Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. in Hanley Falls. “We want it to dry out for a bit, but we don’t want the rain to shut off for the rest of the growing season.”

Fields across the area were inundated with water during the past five days, as more than 12 inches of rain fell in parts of the region from Saturday to Tuesday, causing widespread flooding.

Portions of northeast Lyon County received more than 10 inches of rain during the severe storms Wednesday night, adding more water to the growing problem.

“You can see where the water is receding, and some of those crops are already dead,” Dubbelde said. “Where you farm, you may not have gotten a lot of water, but if upstream or downstream did, it could affect you in a big way.”

Even folks upstream of areas hit by heavy rain are being affected. Rivers and ditches are backing up and some are even flowing upstream.

“South of the Hanley Falls Elevator there is a drainage ditch that is heading uphill,” Dubbelde said.

On Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton declared a State of Emergency in 35 Minnesota counties due to heavy rains and flooding. Jackson, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville and Rock counties are included in the declaration.

Bruce Potter, Integrated Pest Management Specialist at the U of M Southwest Research Outreach Center in Lamberton, says the water is standing in fields is because “the water just can’t go away fast enough.”

“We’re not too bad here (in Lamberton), but we haven’t had as much rain earlier as other areas,” Potter said. “It all depends on how much tile and slope is in a field.”

Creeks, rivers, ditches and lakes are full to the brim, causing water to not drain as fast as it usually does, according to Potter, and crops that were planted later in the season are not fairing as well with the “incredible amount of water that fell in a short period of time.”

“If it’s corn and it’s been sitting underwater for more than five days, there won’t be much left. If soybeans are completely submerged they are unlikely to make it,” Potter added. “It’s warm now, too, which makes it worse.”

Some fields to the east may be at a 5 percent loss, while some to the west could be 10-15 percent, but exact figures won’t be known until arial imagining is done.

“But whatever the amount is, it’s too much,” Potter said.

“Everything is trying to drain into the same system right now,” Potter said. “The saving grace, if there is one, is that in southwest Minnesota we were pretty dry in the spring.”

In addition to the flooded crops, other concerns are raised when wet conditions are persistent.

“Now we have to worry about collateral stuff,” Potter said. “Root rot and different diseases from the wet ground.”

Erosion issues are also common with heavy rains, and Potter said farmers should be on the watch for corn rootworm beetles if they replant crops lost to the flooding.

“The beetles will be attracted to any late or replanted corn,” Potter said.

Professor of Soil Science at the U of M Southwest Research Outreach Center in Lamberton Jeff Strock has been researching drainage in the area for years.

“If you look back to late May, we had a few rain events. The volume of the rivers increased dramatically because of the precipitation… A lot of that water ran off the soil surface and the rivers came up very quickly. Fields adjacent to those rivers and some of the low areas were flooded, but it was for less than a week and the water went back down,” Strock said.

But this situation is different, Strock said. He said most places have seen more than 6 inches of rain since the beginning of June.

“When it rains in more steady patterns the soil profile will fill up. When the soil profile fills up at the surface the runoff increases,” Strock said.

With the rain already filling rivers and creeks, Strock said it makes it hard for tiling systems to drain.

“Once the river goes down,” he said, “the tile drainage systems will probably continue to flow for several weeks.”

Strock said next week’s forecast suggests a chance for the fields to dry, but he hopes this isn’t all the rain for the season.

“The last three summers we’ve gotten to July and it’s been excessively dry,” Strock said. “We’ve been experiencing a lot of extremes… it’s either flooding or it’s drought.”

When asked if he knew when things might get back to normal, Strock said: “I don’t think any of us know when that might be.”