As Minnesota farmers deal with another wet year, UMN researchers try to help

The rainfall this fall has affected farmers’ ability to harvest crops.

Kameron Duncanson, a farmer with the KD2 Farms Partnership and a University of Minnesota alumni, uproots a soybean plant to point out its characteristics on his farm in Mapleton, Minnesota on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. He says that the abundance of rain this growing season has made harvesting more difficult, but that he and other farmers are not unfamiliar with these challenges. 

Kamaan Richards

Kameron Duncanson, a farmer with the KD2 Farms Partnership and a University of Minnesota alumni, uproots a soybean plant to point out its characteristics on his farm in Mapleton, Minnesota on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. He says that the abundance of rain this growing season has made harvesting more difficult, but that he and other farmers are not unfamiliar with these challenges. 

Natalie Rademacher

Minnesota has experienced one of its wettest years yet, which has made it difficult for many farmers to get into the fields and do their job — something University of Minnesota researchers are trying to combat.

The Twin Cities just wrapped up the wettest year on record, according to the National Weather Service. The Twin Cities received around 41 inches of precipitation from Oct. 1, 2018 through Sep. 30, 2019.

This heavy rainfall impacted planting for many farmers this spring and is affecting their ability to harvest this fall. This makes the growing season for crops shorter. 

Farmers cannot go out into the fields if the ground is too wet because heavy planting equipment can get stuck in the mud. 

Kameron Duncanson, a farmer who lives near Mankato, Minnesota, had to delay planting his crops this spring. He was not able to get into the fields on time because of the rainfall. 

As the state sees more wet weather, the University is finding other proactive solutions for farmers to adapt.

The University’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnership works to communicate these solutions to farmers. Kathryn Draeger, Statewide Director of the RSDP, said they are trying to communicate to farmers that the wetter weather does not have to be a bad thing and that there are ways to adapt to it.  

Farmers can prevent flooding in their fields by using tile drainage systems, which involve a sort of plumbing below fields that moves water from the soil. 

Duncanson said the system is very beneficial and is a key management tool in southern Minnesota.

While tile drainage is a popular tool to combat heavy rain, there are other alternatives the University is working on as well. 

One way to mitigate the effects of heavy rainfall in the spring is to plant perennial crops, which do not need to be replanted annually and can reduce erosion, Draeger said. The University has been conducting research around perennial crops, including the grain kernza which was released on the market for farmers earlier this year. 

Not having to replant each year reduces the negative impact from heavy rainfall in the spring, which kept many farmers from being able to plant on time.

Other ways to combat rainfall, according to Draeger, include implementing keyline designs into fields. This water management tool involves spreading rainwater to drier parts of the landscape. 

These solutions are important because this year of heavy rainfall is not an outlier, according to Tom Hoverstad, a scientist at the University’s Southern Research and Outreach Center. 

There has been a trend in more precipitation over the last 50 years. 

“While most agriculture regions in the world need more rain, we are the opposite,” he said. 

Part of Hoverstad’s job involves holding educational programs for farmers to provide support and help them find ways to adapt to the climate. 

Hoverstad said part of what he does is encourage farmers to take advantage of days they have to get things done. 

“Patience is key,” Hoverstad said.

While there has been wetter weather the past couple years, Duncanson has also experienced too little rain as well.

He said there are ups and downs when it comes to farming because of the weather.

“Production agriculture is always a challenge, but we as producers, we work together collaborating and learning from our industry and research partners … to overcome whatever obstacles we face to provide food and fiber to a growing population.”