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Published October 29, 2009, 08:23 PM

Rain: The last thing farmers needed first thing in the morning

Thursday’s long, dreary rain filled already soaked farm fields with unneeded water while dampening farmers’ hopes of getting all their beans harvested.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

Thursday’s long, dreary rain filled already soaked farm fields with unneeded water while dampening farmers’ hopes of getting all their beans harvested.

Beginning Wednesday evening, a light but steady drizzle covered much of northeastern North Dakota into parts of northwestern Minnesota much of the day Thursday, amounting to 0.25 to 0.5 inch of water by nightfall.

More was expected, up to a half-inch, before the system moves out by tonight, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

It was the last thing farmers needed, after fighting wet, muddy fields all month to wrestle already late crops into winter storage. But especially for farmers in the far northeastern corner of North Dakota, where the wetness has been worst all season, Thursday’s rain was unwelcome.

“We’ve got about 1,500 acres out there of soybeans and edible beans,” said Bryan Warner, who farms with his father, Gary Warner, near Pembina, N.D. About a quarter-inch of rain fell there Thursday, on fields that have spent much of the year soaked.

In more normal years, only some corn and sunflowers would remain in the fields. But the last few acres of sugar beets, potatoes, soybeans, dry edible beans remain, with even some grains left in the northern counties of the Red River Valley.

Now. it’s looking like winter might hit before everything can be harvested.

“We can’t even do field work, and we won’t be able to combine,” Warner said. “The beans will be way too wet.”

The spring started out wet, and the Warners were prevented from planting about 400 acres of crop on fields that grew corn last year. This year, they decided not to try corn again and put more acres into beans.

Although nearly all the region’s corn crop remains in the field, it’s one crop that has proven able to make it through a winter for harvest the next spring. Soybeans and edible beans generally don’t make it through winter in harvestable condition.

And there are lots of beans left. Lesley Lubenow, agricultural extension agent for Pembina County, figures about a third of the beans in the county still are in the field. In neighboring Cavalier County to the west, it’s more like 90 percent of the soybeans and 75 percent of the edible beans still unharvested, Ron Beneda, the county extension agent, said this week.

After Thursday’s rain, which promised to continue for much of today, too, they “are shut down at least into next week,” Warner said. “We have to get some 45-degree weather and sunny and it doesn’t look like it’s going to do that.”

If it freezes hard, that helps firm up muddy fields and takes some moisture out of the beans, making harvesting more possible, but the beans also crack easier.

Corn and sunflowers remain hardly harvested, but both crops often can weather a winter if necessary without deep losses.

But there are plenty of unharvested beans in Walsh County, too, as well as the odd field here and there of wheat, canola and flax, because of the unusual amounts of rain last summer and this fall, said Extension Agent Brad Brummond on Thursday.

“I think our edible beans are in particular trouble,” Brummond said. “Our soybeans, there is still some opportunity there, if this stuff I’m hearing about a warm-up. We will have to see. But I think it’s a foregone conclusion that some of these edible bean acres are going to be abandoned.”

Warner agrees.

Not getting this year’s crop harvested means those fields next spring likely will fall into the federal “prevented planting” program, and not get seeded, Warner said.

“We still have some hope to get a lot of (the beans) off. It’s just going to take some sunshine.”

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