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Storms and Flooding Cause Harvest Delays

The past several days have been filled with news reports, photos and stories about the great flood across the upper Midwest this fall. Widespread flooding in a large area has occurred in southern Minnesota, northern Iowa, eastern South Dakota and western Wisconsin. Nearly every river, stream and creek in that region has flooded and was out of its banks in the past week, causing millions of dollars of damage to homes, roads, bridges and farm fields. This flooding rivals the historic floods of 1965 and 1993 in most areas of south-central Minnesota.

The flooding, which is among the worst ever in many areas, was caused by 4-12 in. of rain across the entire region in less than a 24-hour period on Sept. 22 and 23. Most of the southern quarter of Minnesota received at least 5 in. of rain during that period, with a large portion of the region receiving 7-12 in. This type of intense rainfall is very unusual in September, and is usually more likely to occur in the spring and early summer. Some locations across the region also had strong winds and hail with the severe storms, which caused additional crop damage.

The University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center at Waseca recorded 7.65 in. of rainfall from the storm, which is the highest 24-hour total ever recoded during September in the 96-year history of the Waseca site. As of Sept. 24, the site had recorded a total of 12.53 in. of rainfall in September, which is also the highest on record. The normal precipitation total for September at Waseca is 3.19 in. The Waseca research site has now received a total of 42.49 in. of precipitation for 2010, which is well above the normal average of 34.70 in. for an entire year.

Fieldwork delays

In addition to the property and infrastructure damage caused by the extreme rainfall and flooding, there is considerable crop loss along with major delays in the 2010 corn and soybean harvest. The corn and soybean fields near any rivers, steams or creeks will likely be a total loss in most of the region, as will most other low-lying, poorly drained portions of farm fields. Many of these fields had some fairly good yield potential prior to the storms and flooding; however, in some locations, these portions of fields had already been lost from storms and heavy rains back in June.

All farmers in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa are now dealing with completely saturated soil conditions, which is delaying soybean and corn harvest across the entire region. A majority of soybeans in the region are now ready to harvest, as is a considerable amount of corn, once field conditions are fit for harvesting. In some areas it will be several days before combining can begin, while in other areas in may take a week or longer of dry conditions for fields to be fit. In many fields farmers will be forced to combine a portion of the field, leaving the balance until the fields dry out.

Soybean harvesting is the number one concern right now for most producers. Once the soybeans are mature, they dry down rather rapidly in the field, especially with warm, sunny weather conditions. Once this occurs, the soybean pods can pop open in the field prior to harvest. There is also concern regarding the stem strength of the soybeans that were in partial standing water for several days. If field conditions remain too wet to harvest the soybeans for a long period, there is potential for considerable field loss. The wet field conditions also increase corn harvest concerns in the region. Some corn was damaged by strong winds and hail during severe storms in many locations in June, which along with a higher-than-normal incidence of stalk rots, has increased the likelihood of more stalk breakage in corn. This problem will likely increase later this fall in fields with considerable amounts of standing water.

The 2010 crop damage and harvest delays are especially difficult for southern Minnesota farmers, as many were looking at potentially very good corn and soybeans. The soybean yield potential appeared especially solid at many locations, probably the best in recent years. Now, many producers are in wait-and-see mode regarding soybean harvest, hoping that the yields on a majority of their soybeans are strong enough to offset yield losses in the fields and portions of fields that were lost to the heavy rains and flooding.  

Crop insurance considerations

Farm operators with crop losses need to contact their crop insurance agent prior to harvesting fields with significant crop losses to make sure those losses are reported and verified. Producers also need to keep good yield records and follow crop insurance verification procedures in order to maximize crop insurance indemnity payments on damaged crop acres. The crop insurance yield data will also used be used later for potential SURE program payments through the Federal government for the 2010 crop year. The SURE program is the permanent disaster program that was part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Producers who have “optional units” for crop insurance in 2010 could be in a position to collect considerable crop insurance indemnity payments on farm units with large losses. However, producers who switched to “enterprise units” for 2010 may have more difficulty verifying sufficient crop losses to gain an indemnity payment for the 2010 crop year. Optional units insure crops on an individual farm basis, so a producer can collect crop insurance indemnity payments on one or two farm units, while not receiving payments on other farm units. Enterprise units require all the cropland of a given crop in a county to show a crop loss, in order to receive crop insurance indemnity payments. Many producers have switched from optional units to enterprise units in the past couple of years due to a rather significant savings in the crop insurance premium required for enterprise units compared to optional units.

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