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Long winter gets Minnesota farmers off to slow start

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Minnesota farmers are seeing a delay in getting into their fields because of the long winter and late spring and they're keeping a close eye on a chilly forecast which could push back their planting schedule.

The Associated Press reports farmers say their yields for the season shouldn't be reduced as long as they can get to work soon after Easter.

"The calendar is kind of slipping by a bit but I'm optimistic it could be a good year. ... As long as we can get the majority of our corn planted by mid-May it will have very high yield potential," Extension corn agronomist Jeff Coulter told the AP.

In its weekly crops progress and condition report for Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that a statewide average of less than half a day was suitable for fieldwork last week. This week's forecast for below-normal temperatures with the possibility of more snow Wednesday or Thursday comes as southern Minnesota approaches the start of its ideal period for planting corn.

"Unfortunately we're going to be 10 to 15 degrees colder than normal this week, which is going to put the brakes on," Extension climatologist Mark Seeley said. "Soil temperatures haven't warmed to the point where we would want to give the green light to planting yet."

The Minnesota Farm Guide notes that the winter's above-normal number of days with below normal temperatures have alfalfa producers evaluating the conditions of their alfalfa stands for losses. During winter dormancy, the alfalfa roots can survive in soil temperatures as low as 12 degrees, taken at the two-inch depth level. It can be dangerous for the plant if the weather warms enough to initiate growth and then sub-freezing temperatures return which could weaken the plant or even kill it.

Most of southwestern Minnesota remains in a moderate drought after a fairly dry 2012 and 2013.

The lingering impact of the harsh winter is creating problems for farmers across the country. ArkansasMatters reports that Arkansas farmers are behind on planting their crops due to the record cold conditions there. Robby Bevis, the owner of Bevis Farms, said he usually begins planting corn around March 15th. But it could be the middle of April before he can get around to it.

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