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Rains halt harvest

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WILLMAR -- Recent rains have brought fall harvest to a sudden stop.

Farmers had just gotten a good start on the sugar beet and soybean harvest when heavy rains last week dumped 2 to 4 inches on area fields.

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That brought "everything pretty much to a standstill," said Byron Hogberg, director of the Farm Service Agency office in Renville County. "It ground everything to a halt."

With more rain predicted for this week, it may be a while before fields are dry enough to resume harvest.

Most farmers in the Clarkfield area had started harvesting soybeans before the rain, according to Doug Albin, who farms in that area. He had about 40 percent of the bean crop harvested and said area farmers were getting a nearly normal yield.

Albin recorded more than 5.5 inches of rain in the last 10 days. More rain is forecast today and in coming days.

Albin expects not to return to the fields until next week.

The dry soil is still not saturated, he said, with no standing water. Looking for the bright side of the rain delay in harvest, Albin says the moisture will soften the soil for fall tillage and provide some optimism and subsoil moisture for next year's crop.

Larry Konsterlie, who farms northwest of Willmar, had about 150 acres of soybeans harvested, with average yields of about 45 bushels per acre, before the rains came last week. He had just started combining a later-maturing variety of beans, which yielded better at 50 bushels per acre, before parking the harvester.

The rain, a total of 2.5 inches before Monday, will delay fieldwork by at least a few days, he said. "What we need is some sunshine and wind," he said.

The weekly crop weather report from the state field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reflects the cool, wet weather, reporting just 19 percent of soybeans were harvested for the week ending Oct. 4, well short of the 41 percent average. The corn crop was 37 percent mature, 40 percentage points behind the average of 77 percent. The sugar beet crop was 23 percent harvested, just six points short of the five-year average.

Sugar beets are the most time-sensitive, with October usually providing the "window of opportunity" to get them out before a killing frost, said Hogberg. Farmers are not eager to take equipment into saturated fields to harvest muddy beets, he said.

While farmers would have appreciated the rain more in July than in October, Wes Nelson, Farm Service Agency director in Kandiyohi County, said the rain will recharge the subsoil moisture that had become severely depleted over the dry summer.

Nelson said he has not seen signs of standing water in fields, which indicates the rain has soaked in and demonstrates "how dry we've been."

Once harvest gets under way in earnest, Nelson and Hogberg agree farmers may be pleasantly surprised with yields.

Tests show corn could yield 130 to 150 bushels an acre -- or more, said Hogberg.

Much needed rain in August and warmer-than-usual temperatures in September gave crops a good boost.

Sweet corn harvest is a good indicator of how field corn will be, said Hogberg. Minnesota's sweet corn started out at 5 to 6 tons per acre and ended the season at 10 to 11 tons an acre.

Soybeans could be in the 40- to 50-bushel range this year, he said.

Because of the moisture, and extra time and frost corn needs to mature, Nelson said harvest will likely be later and last longer this year. That often increases stress and thus the likelihood of accidents.

He urged farmers to stay calm, get some rest and take some breaks.

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