Deluge of rain floods MN farm fields

Darin Johnson’s first week as president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) didn’t go according to plan. After being elected at MSGA’s June 20 board meeting in Mankato, Johnson traveled to northern Minnesota with his family for a restorative weekend of R&R.

But the day after his election, torrential downpours descended on southern Minnesota, where many areas received seven-10 inches of rain, forcing Johnson to cut his vacation short and return to the family farm to deal with water flowing over the dykes on his Wells operation. Many of his farming colleagues in Faribault County faced similar conditions.

“We just got too saturated,” he said. “There was nowhere for the water to go.”

Amid the rain, Johnson is trying to keep it all in perspective while recognizing the unusual nature of the situation and the 180-degree turnaround from the droughts of recent years. Earlier this year, Johnson reported that his subsoil was drier than it’s ever been.

Not so anymore.

“We’re keeping our heads above water, but it’s a pretty dire situation,” he said. “This is some of the worst drown out we’ve seen in about 15 years, so it’s been a long time, but there’s still some decent-looking crop around, it just depends on topography and the slope of the field and drainage outlets.”

Still, work outside of flood management remained on the farm. When reached by phone, Johnson was spraying his fields and preparing for his weekly radio show on KBEW 98.1 FM.

On June 25, Gov. Tim Walz, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Commissioner Thom Petersen surveyed the wreckage across Minnesota farm country, which included flooded fields and the temporary closing of CHS’s soy processing facility in Mankato following the partial failure of the Rapidan Dam.

Some farm fields in southern Minnesota saw up to 10 inches in a rain in a 48-hour span from June 20-22, 2024. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

“Hard to express what I saw,” Commissioner Petersen wrote on Facebook. “Crop conditions (are) worse than I thought. My heart goes out to those impacted. We’ll keep working to provide necessary resources and support for those impacted.”

The commissioner also checked in with MSGA directors, including Vice President Ryan Mackenthun and past president Bob Worth. Petersen encouraged affected farmers to report their losses immediately to their local Farm Service Agency.

“The commissioner and MDA really want to help,” Worth said.

Worth, a mental health advocate, highlighted the importance of touching base with friends and family during catastrophic weather events.

“This is going to put some people over the edge,” Worth said. “We’ve got to keep our eyes and ears open for our neighbors who are struggling.

MSGA leaders will continue urging state and federal leaders to open up assistance programs. The governor indicated during a June 25 press conference that a special session, once thought to be unlikely, is now on the table.

“Southern Minnesota is my home – I’m hearing incredibly challenging stories from friends and family in Mankato. My heart goes out to the families who have lost their homes, their businesses, their priceless personal belongings,” Gov. Walz said. ‘The state is here to help, and we will continue our work to keep our people, property, and public infrastructure protected.

Mackenthun, who farms in McLeod County, experienced flooding in his area earlier in June. So far this month, his hometown has received 10.37 inches in June, the second-wettest June in history. But relatively speaking, he’s thankful for the conditions of his 2024 crop.

“I’ve been saying: ‘I’m feeling unfortunate but lucky,’” he said. “We got hammered early but we’re lucky we didn’t get what Mankato and other areas got.”

In mid-July, Johnson and Minnesota farmers serving on the American Soybean Association (ASA) will visit with Minnesota’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., during ASA board meeting. Johnson expects weather and infrastructure issues, along with improving the farm safety net in the next Farm Bill, will be hot topics during Hill Visits.

“This is why the safety net (in the Farm Bill) is so important,” he said. “Having some good crop insurance to make sure that we are able to pay the bills and keep the lights on for the next year – it’s so critical right now.”

In St. James, MSGA Treasurer Rose Wendinger said her area in Watonwan County received more than 10 inches of rain in a 36-hour span June 27-28, putting about 20-30% of her crop under water.

“Most of her initial flooding cleared out by the weekend, so we feel super lucky,” she said. “Ultimately, it could’ve been worse.”

Secretary Kyle Jore, who farms nearly six hours away in Thief River Falls, had a brighter picture to paint.

“Thanks to the rain, we’ve actually been off to a good start up here, with the exception of places that have gotten drown out,” he said. “By and large, the northwest has been spared the damage that the south and northeast have suffered.”

The closing days of June into early July look relatively dry in southern Minnesota, and Johnson is trying to consider the big picture.

“This is farming,” he said. “We don’t have any control over Mother Nature when she rears her head like this.”

Click here for a list of MDA resources related to the flood.

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