CENTERVILLE, Wis. – For Paul Tuschner, this year’s harvest was, in a word, interesting.
Tuschner Farms’ beans were excellent, yielding 50 bushels an acre. But the corn crop was down 20 to 30 bushels per acre from last year.
“And I can’t explain why,” Tuschner said. “It’s the nature of the beast this year.”
With nearly all soybeans in Minnesota and Wisconsin already harvested along with a majority of the corn crop, 2012 will be remembered for one thing: the drought.
“It’s been an interesting year all the way around,” said Lisa Behnken, a crops specialist with University of Minnesota Extension. “The drought conditions are the story this year.”
Areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin faced dry conditions as early as February. Then, farmers weren’t too worried and some even anticipated a strong and early planting. The hope was the dry spring would turn wet after the seeds had germinated and taken root.
The rains did come, but caused their own problems.
In Minnesota, the rains only delayed planting, but in Wisconsin they also caused significant damage. In Trempealeau County, more than 1,000 acres of corn was destroyed along with 2,000 acres of alfalfa, valued at $450,000, according to Extension agriculture agent Steve Okonek.
Then things dried out and for the most part stayed that way. By July 4, corn and and beans were looking good. But those with sandy soil or who didn’t get as much rain were already worrying about the dry weather.
Rain didn’t arrive until the end of July, and by then it was too little to end the drought and too late to prevent irreversible damage to crops.
The beginning of the harvest was spotty, with some fields yielding almost nothing and others yielding well. The yield was poor for many Trempealeau County farmers, but better for those in southeast Minnesota.
“It was a dry and hot summer, but a lot of farmers are seeing a pretty good crop otherwise,” Winona County Farm Bureau president Glen Groth said at the beginning of the harvest.
Now, with most of the harvest in, that trend has continued. Behnken said farms good soil that received more rain had strong and in some cases exceptional yields, while those with poor soil and little rain are yielding almost nothing.
Minnesota’s overall soybean and corn yield is up compared to last year, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, while Wisconsin—and the U.S. average—is down.
Even after the last bean is picked and the last corn makes it to market, the legacy of the 2012 drought will linger.
In Trempealeau County, farmers like Tuschner are already worried about next year. Dry soil is hard to prepare for winter, and will be even worse without average rain and snowfall.
Behnken said several inches of moisture will be needed to return fields to normal before next spring’s planting.
“The drought is setting us up for a challenge next year,” she said. “These soils are very, very dry.”