What's the saying — "harvest in like a lamb, out like a lion"?
Minnesota is in the heart of harvest season with wheat wrapping up late last month, sugar beets being pulled this week and corn and soybeans entering their final days in field.
Despite weeks of soggy conditions in early summer that put wheat farmers in Minnesota's northwestern corner on their heels for about six weeks, wheat farmers are reporting good yields and hearty grains.
"I'd say 98% of the wheat crop came off better than expected," said Charlie Vogel, chief executive officer with the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers in Red Lake Falls. "It was a much better year than anyone on the first of June would've been brave enough to predict."
The state's sugar beet growers are up next. Farmers will wait until the roots of the beets dip below 55 degrees before setting up the second — and most substantive — portion of the harvest calendar.
So far, just 13% of the state's sugar beet crop is harvested, but that all changes tonight.
"We're going to start tonight at 12:01 a.m.," said Harrison Weber, executive director with the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Association. "Generally speaking, we start on October 1. But we delayed it a few days this year because it's too warm."
The cinematic image of sugar beet piling sites and factories running for 10 days straight — as memorialized in the popular "Nomadland" film — isn't far from what'll happen over the next two weeks, Weber said.
"We will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week until we get all the beets out of the ground," he said, adding that finding enough seasonal workers is perennially a challenge.
In some small towns in northern Minnesota, students will stay a day or two out of school to help the beet harvest, Weber said. Folks in Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., will take off work to drive a hopper to make extra cash.
"We rely on a significant amount of part-time labor," said Weber.
Minnesota's two largest cash crops — corn and soybeans — are just getting going, according to the latest USDA crop report. As of Monday, 29% of soybeans and 5% of corn for grain has been harvested. A long, slow slide into autumn weather has put both crops' harvest slightly behind the five-year average schedule.
More than 75% of the state's potatoes and edible beans have been harvested.
While the the state's urban core in Hennepin County is experiencing drought, with social media aflutter with images of drained Minnehaha Creek, many of the outlying regions have had hot growing conditions — though not as destructive as in 2021.
Low water levels on the Mississippi River have created a bottleneck in barge traffic near St. Louis, the Associated Press reports, creating uncertainty about getting crops out to market and bringing fertilizer upriver in time to apply it to fields before winter.
"There's a lot of unknowns," Vogel said. "Do we have a long enough fall to get fall fertilizer down? Or does that roll to the spring?"
Vogel said farmers, like always, will be watching the weather.