Hot, dry weather not hurting crops just yet

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 5:08 PM EDT
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The extreme temperatures and lack of rain can certainly cause problems for farmers. But many aren't worried about their crops just yet.

The last couple years have been a challenge for many of those who make a living off one of the biggest industries in our region. A prolonged stretch of hot and dry weather could be a problem for some crops.

Jason Heerdegen is the manager of the Ottawa Lake Co-Op and a farmer. "Obviously we're concerned, but for now we're in pretty good shape", said Heerdegen.

In mid-May a lot of local fields were covered in water. Some had to be re-planted because of all the rain. And of course last year a lot of farmers never even go their crops in the ground.

"Last year only about 40% of the corn crop went in and about 80% of the beans. This year things were good in the early spring. It was cool, but dry. I think we got 100% of the crops in the ground this year," said Heerdegen.

Many fields did get some rain in the last week. Randy Hill is a farmer who also works at the co-op. "There were some areas that got a half inch, others got 2.5 Inches," said Hill.

Even with that recent rain, the ground is bone dry in some spots right now. However, you have to dig a little deeper to get the full picture.

"It looks dry on top but when you get down in there, there's moisture there. It keeps the plants alive for now," said Hill.

Many of the crops have a way to cope with the heat. "When they're fighting off the heat they curl up which shows their stressed a bit, but it is so the sun doesn't get to them. Beans do the same thing, they curl up their leaves some," said Hill..

Some plants handle the hot and dry conditions better than others but for the most part the two biggest crops in our region can take it.

"The corn probably handles it better. The corn has a better root system, and can go deeper than a bean plant to get moisture. However, the beans will also handle it fairly well," said Hill.

Cooler temperatures at night help too. Plants can live off a heavy dew for awhile And a lack of rain can actually be a good thing in small doses.

"If the ground is wet all the time you never have the roots go down further for moisture. That can make the plant weak, and it can fall over in a storm. When it is dry, they get a better root system, and will stand up better in upcoming weather events," said Hill.

Of course, if this continues for a prolonged period, it will be a problem.

The farmers we spoke with say they've learned to just wait things out.

"The weather can change quickly. When you are forecasting ten days out, anything can happen. A pop-up shower could save us, or at least buy us some time," said Heerdegen.

If you're wondering why more farmers don't use irrigation systems on their fields, there are a couple main reasons. The equipment and wells are expensive, and there's not always enough water near the fields to do it. Most of the farmers who use irrigation systems are growing produce Those are so-called higher value crops that often can't take the stress of extreme weather as well as corn and beans.