Weather No Friend to Michigan Growers in 2019

Published online: Nov 15, 2019 News Scott Nunn
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Source: Huron Daily Tribune

It has been an uphill battle for farmers this year, starting with delayed planting at the beginning of the season followed by heavy rains this fall and now early substantial snowfalls.

“Most Michigan farmers were anticipating a late harvest due to the late planting of many major field crops, but the end of the 2019 crop year is proving to be just as difficult as the start of planting,” Michigan Farm Bureau field crops specialist Theresa Sisung said in a press release. “Yields had already been negatively impacted due to late-planting—but the harvest delays this fall are just adding insult to injury at this point.”

Michigan Sugar executive vice president Jim Ruhlman said Huron County farmers fought all odds to get any sugarbeets out of the extremely wet fields.

“What we have seen is a very short window to harvest and some very committed and relentless growers,” Ruhlman said. “For the most part our crop is out of the ground and I think we will get them all processed.”

Brad Geiger, partner of Bischer Farms said it was a constant struggle to get the beets out of the ground.

“It was a tough go with the beets,” he said. “We got our beets harvested but it was really hard.”

Geiger said in addition to struggling to get the beets out of the fields, the weather has posed challenges when it comes to getting back in the fields for tilling and the early snow has prevented the ability to plant cover crops.

With overnight lows in the single digits, farmers had a rapidly closing window to get the sugarbeets off the field. According to Ruhlman, frozen or frostbitten sugar beets do not store as long as fresh harvested beets.

Other parts of the state may not be so fortunate. According to Sisung, some producers may be forced to abandon crops.

“Many farmers are also concerned they won’t be able to harvest corn for grain due to the late-maturing of the crop, with estimated moisture content of grain that has been harvested running as high as 26 percent instead of the normal 18 to 20 percent,” Sisung said, adding that corn harvest is only 33 percent complete compared to the five-year average of 66 percent. “Unfortunately, the current weather pattern shows no significant dry-down opportunity.”

Ubly, Mich., farmer Chris Guza, of Guza Farms said he is confident he won't have to abandon any crops, but noted the early-season weather kept him from planting dry beans.

"It has been [rough]," Guza said. "Everything got planted late because it was so wet."

According to Guza, during the early season, just as the fields would begin to dry out, rain would move back through the area and delay planting again.

"The fields would get close to being fit so you could plant them and it would rain again," he said. "Everybody was waiting because the conditions weren't good. You had such short windows to plant stuff and you didn't know if you should plant or not."

Guza said following the wet season, the area experienced a dry spell, which delayed the growth of the crops that farmers were able to plant.

According to information from Michigan Farm Bureau, the soybean harvest is also lagging behind the five-year average with higher-than-normal moisture levels.

The USDA’s November Crop Production Report, based on conditions as of Nov. 1, 2019, highlights the weather impact to Michigan and national-level yields and total production, according to the farm bureau:

  • Michigan corn yield is down two bushels from last year to 151 bushels per acre. Total production is expected to be 263 million bushels, down 11 percent from last year. Michigan corn for grain harvest progress was the third lowest in the nation. Only North Dakota and Wisconsin were further behind.
  • Michigan soybean yield is forecast at 42 bushels per acre. The yield is down 5.5 bushels from 2018, and production is forecast at 72.2 million bushels.
  • Sugarbeet growers anticipate a yield of 27.9 tons per acre, down 1.2 tons from last year. Production is forecast at 4.05 million tons. Sugarbeet harvest lags behind every other major sugarbeet producing state.
  • U.S. corn production for grain is forecast at 13.7 billion bushels, down a percent from the previous forecast and down 5 percent from last year. Based on conditions as of Nov. 1, yields are expected to average 167 bushels per harvested acre, down 1.4 bushels from the previous forecast and down 9.4 bushels from 2018. Area harvested for grain is forecast at 81.8 million acres, unchanged from the previous forecast but up slightly from 2018.
  • U.S. soybean production for beans is forecast at 3.55 billion bushels, down slightly from the previous forecast and down 20 percent from last year. Based on conditions as of Nov. 1, yields are expected to average 46.9 bushels per acre, unchanged from the previous forecast but down 3.7 bushels from 2018. Area harvested for beans in the United States is forecast at 75.6 million acres, unchanged from the previous forecast but down 14 percent from 2018.

Ruhlman said ultimately the growers and employees deserve credit for successfully harvesting the sugarbeets, against all odds.

“It was an amazing feat by all of them,” he said. “Our growers deserve credit for working together and getting them out of the ground.”

Guza said if it wasn't for the help of family, friends and hired help at his farm he wouldn't have gotten the crops off the fields.

"It is all hands on deck for whatever we are working on at the time," he said. "You never know if you are going to get another opportunity to finish."

"It is a challenge and it always is," Guza added.