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Published August 24, 2009, 11:01 PM

Harvesting challenges abound

Mature crops lag far behind previous years in Red River Valley
Like most crops in the region, dry edible beans look pretty good, which is part of the reason they are having problems right now.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

Like most crops in the region, dry edible beans look pretty good, which is part of the reason they are having problems right now.

The condition is part of a Catch 22: the plants holding pinto, navy, turtle and other dry edible beans are tall and lush enough that with recent wet weather, a slight tropical jungle syndrome has set in, leading to fungal outbreaks.

White mold is being found in bean fields across the Red River Valley, said Todd Sorenson, treasurer of Northarvest Bean Growers Association and a farmer near Fisher, Minn.

“With the moisture we have had, it’s a pretty good crop and a good canopy, so the wind is not getting down there,” Sorenson said Monday.

White mold in edible beans is fairly typical, said Lionel Olson, bean specialist with the North Dakota State University agricultural extension service’s regional office in Grand Forks.

But he’s getting lots of calls in recent days from farmers about it.

“You see it every year. It just happens with wet conditions,” Olson said. “We have had periodic rains and conditions that are keeping things moist and damp, so it’s a little more prevalent.”

Many farmers have sprayed fungicide on their fields, but for most it’s probably too late, for the same reason the white mold showed up, Sorenson and Olson said.

“It’s difficult to penetrate the canopy (with the spray), so you are not going to be able to kill the fungus there and not be able to prevent the fungus that is there from spreading,” Olson said.

Some farmers spray fungicide on edible beans on sort of a schedule, as they do on higher-value sugar beets, to forestall fungal outbreaks, Sorenson said. Others try to calculate if it’s worth it based on the crop and the conditions.

The worst weather for such fungal outbreaks is the sort of warm, showering weather that’s been seen over the region the past week or more, Olson said. The best antidote would be dry, sunny and breezy days.

Grain harvest

Meanwhile, the small grain harvest is headed for a very late start, and many farmers in the Red River Valley won’t bring combines into fields until after Sept. 1, when typically most of the wheat and barley already is in the bin.

Sorenson, who grows sugar beets as well as wheat and beans, said American Crystal Sugar growers will begin the “pre-pile” stage of beet harvest Sept. 1.

“So some guys will be juggling a few things at once,” he said.

Despite being late, the grain crops do well in cool weather and look good, Olson said.

Only 7 percent of the spring wheat in North Dakota was harvested by Sunday, compared with a 62 percent average in 2004-08, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly crop progress survey of county agents. And most of those harvested acres are well west of the Red River Valley. The report says 88 percent of the spring wheat crop looks to be in good or excellent condition.

Only 15 percent of Minnesota’s spring wheat crop is harvested, compared with 63 percent in an average year.

The corn crop in both states is in good condition but remains well behind the normal maturity schedule because of late spring planting and cooler than normal temperatures. There’s more skepticism about the corn crop escaping the first hard freeze, which typically hits the region before October.

In North Dakota, only 11 percent of the corn was at the dough stage by Sunday, compared with 59 percent in an average year. In Minnesota, 23 percent of the corn crop is in the dough stage, compared with 62 percent by Aug. 23 on average from 2004-08, USDA said.


In Minnesota, 91 percent of the soybean crop was setting pods by Sunday, compared with the five-year average of 97 percent by the same date.

Only 21 percent of North Dakota’s soybean crop was “fully podded” by Sunday, compared with 71 percent by the same date in an average year.

Dry edible beans are 25 percent fully podded, compared with an average maturity of 69 percent by Aug. 23 in the previous five years.

The Crookston area has received 1,432 “growing degree days” since May 4, which is 371 growing degree days behind a normal year at the same time, USDA reported.

The average temperature in the region was 5 to 6 degrees below normal last week. But rainfall since April 1 is about 2.4 inches ahead of normal.

“Everything looks pretty good this year,” Sorenson said. “We’re just a little behind and we are hoping for a little extended season to get it all in.”

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or e-mail to