Some 2008 N.D. corn remains in fieldsSome North Dakota corn farmers are battling last winter’s snow all over again. Tens of millions of dollars for the state’s farm economy rests on the outcome.The snow that prevented farmers from finishing their corn harvest late last year has now melted, and runoff has flooded fields, making them too soggy to support heavy combines. Instead of planting a new crop this spring, farmers such as Terry McMillan are still waiting to cut down standing stalks and finish last year’s harvest.
By: Blake Nicholson, Associated Press
BISMARCK — Some North Dakota corn farmers are battling last winter’s snow all over again. Tens of millions of dollars for the state’s farm economy rests on the outcome.
The snow that prevented farmers from finishing their corn harvest late last year has now melted, and runoff has flooded fields, making them too soggy to support heavy combines. Instead of planting a new crop this spring, farmers such as Terry McMillan are still waiting to cut down standing stalks and finish last year’s harvest.
“We got some corn down — we went out in March and combined a few days,” said McMillan, who was unable to harvest about 1,200 acres of corn last year on his Wimbledon-area farm in eastern North Dakota. “We probably got 400 acres done, I suppose. Then (the ground) got too soft and we had to quit.”
Other farmers are in a similar predicament, said Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association.
“Now that the frost has broken, you really can’t get equipment out in these conditions,” he said. “And I’m sure there are acres under water.”
Farmers who do get the rest of their corn out of the field face a hassle in getting the grain to market. Spring flooding has caused widespread damage to rural roads in North Dakota and northern South Dakota. Some have load limits.
About 10 percent of North Dakota’s corn crop — an estimated 20 million bushels — had to be left in the fields over the winter. Lilja estimates more than half of the standing corn has been harvested this spring, but the amount remaining in the field is unprecedented for the month of May.
The amount is not enough to affect commodity markets, but it does represent about $35 million worth of grain at current cash market prices, assuming most of the remaining crop is of good quality.
McMillan said he has been happy with both the quality and yield of the corn he has harvested this spring. Lilja said other farmers have not been so fortunate. “The quality has been all over the board,” he said.
Many North Dakota corn farmers rotate the crop with soybeans. McMillan said he’s eager to get the rest of his corn harvested so he can get this year’s bean crop in the ground.
If farmers are unable to do that, it’s uncertain whether they would be able to take advantage of provisions in their crop insurance contracts aimed at giving farmers some relief when they are unable to seed their fields.
“Each of these crop insurance companies will take ‘prevented planting’ on a case-by-case basis this year,” Lilja said. “It’s not a given.”
Lilja used the example of a farmer who still has corn standing, but whose neighbors managed to harvest their remaining crop. “He probably won’t qualify,” Lilja said.
“Producers will need to take advantage of any opportunity that becomes available to harvest the corn in order to either plant a late-season crop, such as soybeans or sunflowers, or at least to ensure the acreage is eligible for prevented planting (crop insurance provisions),” said Dwight Aakre, a North Dakota State University Extension Service farm management specialist.
Aakre said corn producers who also have livestock have another option — wait until early summer for the ground to dry and then harvest the corn and plant a short-season hay crop.
“While an emergency hay crop is seldom financially competitive with most cash crops, if feed is needed, it still can be a profitable use of the land,” he said.
McMillan said he remains optimistic he will eventually finish last year’s harvest.
“We’re just waiting for fields to dry off now, I guess,” he said.
North Dakota winter wheat farmers have a plentiful supply this spring of something that was scarce a year ago — moisture.
Last spring, some farmers plowed under their winter wheat crop because of dry weather. A year later, flooding and not drought is the main worry in much of North Dakota.
State Wheat Commission marketing specialist Erica Peterson said everything she’s heard about this year’s winter wheat crop has been good. She said there might be some flooded-out fields, but compared to a year ago, farmers are in a much better position.