Michigan: Harvest on Hold as Farmers Wait to Dry Out

Published online: Oct 12, 2021 News Jon Adamy
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Source: Michigan Farm Bureau

“We’re stalled right out.”

That’s how Matt Schwab is describing work at his 700-acre farm in Standish, Mich, after getting pummeled by roughly 6 inches of rainfall in the last week or so.

Looking at precipitation totals across Michigan over the last month, he’s not alone.

More than a quarter of the areas tracked by the Michigan State University Agricultural Weather Office have seen more than 5 inches of rain in the past four weeks with the south central and southeast regions getting hit the hardest.

Gull Lake, Battle Creek and White Lake each recorded at least 9 inches of rain in the last four weeks, which is 6 to 7 inches above normal over the same period. Coldwater and Jackson saw more than 2.5 inches of rain in just the last week alone. Statewide, more than a dozen areas have been hit with more than 7 inches of rain in the past 30 days.

Things would be a lot different for Schwab — who grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat while raising beef cattle — if Mother Nature were cooperating right now.

“We’d be full bore harvest, we’d be taking high moisture corn out for dairy cattle, planting wheat, and harvesting soybeans obviously,” Schwab said. “To be at a complete standstill near the middle of October is pretty tough on a farmer mentally."

Heavy rainfalls around harvest time are a major concern for sugarbeet growers who need the ground — and the beets themselves — to cooperate.

“Because the beets have to be lifted out of the ground it can make it a lot harder if the soil is very wet,” said Theresa Sisung, Michigan Farm Bureau field crops specialist.

“There is also a possibility of all the rain causing lower sugar content.”

Sisung said while most farmers are ahead of progress on sugarbeet harvest, others will see delays as they wait for fields to dry up.

Doug Darling, a sixth-generation farmer in Monroe County and a member of the Michigan Farm Bureau board of directors, says he hasn’t harvested soybeans or done anything in the fields since he was rained out the night of Oct. 2.

Since then, it’s rained seven out of the last nine days, dumping more than 7 inches in since Sept. 20.

“You’re getting a little bit anxious and wanting to get more things done,” Darling said.

“The beans are about ready to harvest, but you keep getting them damp and they’re either too tough to harvest or they’re too doughy to harvest right now.”

Darling estimates less than 5 percent of soybeans have been harvested in Monroe, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

He says he can’t remember a time when it’s been this wet, this early.

Beyond muddy fields, flooded roads and full ditches, Schwab worries about humidity taking a toll on his corn.

“Hopefully, I’m wrong, but I’m afraid we’re going to see some issues develop because of this heat and excessive moisture,” Schwab said.

“The humidity the last few days has been way above normal, which gives me some concern that we might see either some sprouting on the corn or see some ear mold as well underneath the husk because it’s so wet and it’s so warm.”

Corn weakened by outbreaks of tar spot are also in danger of toppling over in strong fall winds, and the longer it sits in a field, the more risk it runs of be picked apart by wildlife.

Despite the challenges, Schwab is hopeful that once harvest finally happens good yields could be in store because of the late rainfall.

But it all hinges on getting back out there in time.

“Thirty years of full-time farming plus growing up on a farm I’ve seen a few years like this, and there’s nothing we can do except wait it out and be patient,” Schwab said.

“Obviously, we’ll deal with it and we’ll survive.”