Small Grain Harvest in Traverse County 2019

 Small grains in Traverse County matured and ripened in early August. Photo by Andrea Johnson.

WHEATON, Minn. – Planted in wet and cold conditions, crops in west central Minnesota finally started looking pretty good in late July.

The farm received 2.8 inches of rain in July – just about perfect.

As of Aug. 1, Rodd Beyer said the pollinated corn looked excellent, and it was possible to take kernel counts to determine the potential yield. The soybeans were producing lots of pods.

Alfalfa remained a little iffy due to rutted spots, and the sugarbeets still have some challenges.

Rodd and his neighbor had worked on planting cereal rye or barley on about 200 acres (five fields) of prevented planting. There was a $15 per acre Market Facilitation Program payment available for unseeded acres planted to cover crops by Aug. 1.

Rodd has tried cover crops over the last few years, and he had some leftover seed to use. In past years, he had an airplane fly cover crop seed on standing corn or soybeans in early August. This year, he used a drill.

“It’s a lot of monkey business doing the tillage and then spreading the seed and going back in a week later and doing the tillage again to drag it in,” he said. “You hope for a rain to get washed into the soil enough so it grows.”

The cover crop starts to germinate a little bit and there is some vegetation at harvest. When harvest is late, he worries about the cover crop growing too tall and getting into the sickle bar of the soybean head. It hasn’t been an issue so far, but it’s something to consider.

After harvest, the cover crop is left for the winter. It’s terminated in the spring about 10 days before planting corn, and for soybeans, it’s terminated with glyphosate shortly after the soybeans are planted. The cover crop seems to help reduce weed pressure, but hasn’t led to increased yields or profits yet.

Rodd schedules and pays for quite a bit of spray plane applications each growing season.

Fungicides with various modes of action are sprayed on the sugarbeets every 10 days. The Minn-Dak Farmers Elevator agronomist tells growers when the sugarbeets need to be sprayed. They are still having trouble controlling Cercospora leafspot, but without fungicides, the sugar content would be only 10 percent of what they do receive. Rodd said that raising sugarbeets right now is a less-than-breakeven enterprise. It costs about $20 per acre each time the spray plane flies over the field.

Rodd was going to see the pilot about getting fungicides sprayed on the soybeans. This practice is done not as much for fungus, but to help with the health of the plants. He’s been able to make at least 3-4 extra bushels per acre when he’s used a fungicide, and he’s done this for several years.

Insect and/or weed pressure was not a concern in early August, he said. The sugarbeets were spot-sprayed for cockleburs.

The crew pulled out the sugarbeet lifter and was going through it ahead of pre-pile harvest. They also had a couple of 1970s tandem trucks they were cleaning up and getting ready to sell.

Ahead of Farmfest, the Beyers were spending some time visiting Gramma Darlene’s cabin, located on South Turtle Lake near Battle Lake. Rodd’s brother, Troy, had come for the week with his kids, and Gramma was showing the kids how to raise, prepare and eat homegrown vegetables.

Watershed works

While Rodd completed those farming things, Jamie Beyer continued with her work for the Bois De Sioux Watershed District.

Board members, Traverse County officials, and biologists from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) met at the watershed office to discuss 12 new stream segments that were assessed as newly-impaired for aquatic life within the watershed district.

The impairment label occurs based on biological indicators like fish or invertebrates or based on the water chemistry – dissolved oxygen or suspended solids. With the impaired label, state and federal funds sometimes become available to restore the streams so they meet standards for aquatic life.

A new rule called the Tiered Aquatic Life Uses (TALU) attempts to make more precise aquatic life use goals for Minnesota’s water. The EPA approved this revision to Minnesota Water Quality Standards on June 26, 2018.

The TALU framework seeks to balance the ag drainage use of ditches while still protecting some level of aquatic life in these waters of the state. Under a TALU system, both uses (ag drainage and support of aquatic life) can be supported, said the biologists from the MPCA.

Under the new TALU process, waters are separated into three categories -- exceptional, general and modified use waters.

Exceptional use waters include high quality water resources found most commonly in northeast Minnesota. General use waters have good fish and invertebrate communities that meet or should meet minimum goals, and modified use includes water resources where the habitat for aquatic life has been compromised due to legal ditching practices, according to the MPCA.

At least one board member was concerned that judicial ditches are now considered in the TALU assessments. If the J.D.’s are not cleared of silt for decades, they can become small slits that water seeps through. The ditches become havens for grass, cattails, and even aquatic plant and animals. In some cases, fish will find ways to get into those judicial ditches. When this happens, the MPCA can say the judicial ditch needs to be maintained in a fashion that allows aquatic animals and fish to survive.

“The MPCA does monitor state waters including judicial ditches to ensure that they support aquatic life. We typically would wait a year after a ditch maintenance activity to sample a stream for fish or macroinvertebrates to allow for some recovery of habitat, chemistry and biology,” commented staff from MPCA.

The watershed board members were concerned this would make it impossible to get the ditch cleaned out or able to drain water, thus rendering the ditch useless for draining water from fields, even though the landowners pay taxes for the ditches. This also can greatly decrease the value of the farmland if the ditches are not working.

MPCA staff say TALU does not impede the ability of drainage authorities to maintain ditches.

“Farmers are still able to maintain ditches in accordance with Minnesota’s drainage rules,” said the MPCA staff. “The modified aquatic life use criteria ensure that water quality is maintained at a level that supports aquatic life while acknowledging that physical alteration has fundamentally changed the aquatic ecosystem.

“In many regions of Minnesota, both the water that ditches convey and the aquatic habitat that ditches provide are fundamental components of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems.”

Landowners are concerned they could be sued if the judicial ditch cannot maintain aquatic life at some point.

“If you want to see firsthand how the TALU water quality rule is going to be applied to agricultural drainage ditches, the public is welcome to attend these meetings,” said Jamie.