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Published April 25, 2011, 06:15 AM

Mid-April snowfall, flooding delay planting in region

Normally, by late April, farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota would have begun planting the seeds of what bring us bread and beer.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald

Normally, by late April, farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota would have begun planting the seeds of what bring us bread and beer.

But the lingering winter conditions and big floods have pushed it all back, delaying spring wheat and barley planting by two to three weeks.

A year ago, in fact, by April 17, Minnesota farmers had 38 percent of their spring wheat in the ground, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly survey.

North Dakota farmers had 4 percent of the spring wheat planted and 2 percent of the barley a year ago, right on pace with the five-year average for April 17.

Sugar beets were 18 percent planted by April 17, 2010, in the start of what turned out to be a nearly ideal growing season all around, yielding a record crop.

This year is starting out different, with a new crop of wet snow draped over much of the region in mid-April.

It will be a full 17 days before the average starting date for field work is reached in North Dakota, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports, pegging the date at May 5.

Running behind

That is two weeks behind the average pace in the state and 17 days behind last year’s schedule.

That likely will affect potential yields by shortening the growing season and may force farmers to switch planting plans.

Minnesota farmers figure full field work to begin April 25. Temperatures hit the 70s and into the mid-80s across much of Minnesota for a day or two in mid-April, preparing the soil for seeding.

One western Grand Forks County, N.D., farmer says if no appreciable precipitation falls and conditions improve markedly to, say, warm and sunny, he might get out in the field “in the first week in May.”

That’s not too bad, though less than ideal, he says.

Outside of 2009 — which was a late, wet spring similar to this year when the average start date for field work in North Dakota was May 2 — the past decade has seen field work start on average from April 14 to April 25, according to USDA.

The five-year average in Minnesota shows 9 percent of the spring wheat and 11 percent of the barley planted by April 17.

Soil temperatures

Average soil temperatures April 17 in North Dakota ranged from 32 to 34 degrees at a 4-inch depth in the northeast sector and 33 to 39 degrees in the southeast sector of the state, much cooler than normal.

Even as the soil warms, it’s going to take awhile for the fields to dry down enough for spring work.

Topsoil moisture in North Dakota was rated 55 percent surplus and 45 percent adequate as of April 17, compared with the five-year average for the date of 17 percent surplus and 64 percent adequate, with 12 percent short and 7 percent very short.

The topsoil moisture in Minnesota is rated 49 percent surplus and 51 percent adequate.

The subsoil in both states is 45 percent surplus and 54 percent adequate, far wetter than normal at this time of year.

With crop prices running at 50 percent to 100 percent above typical levels, farmers stand to lose more potential income by losing potential yield to a late spring.

On the other hand, of course, the high prices also can make up for some of the lost crop potential.