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Published June 06, 2011, 05:20 AM

Double trouble for these farmers

Farmers in North Dakota’s Devils Lake Basin, beset with both rising lake water and a late, wet spring, haven’t given up on planting just yet. “We’re going to get all we can,” says Darryl Biby, who farms in the Churchs Ferry, N.D., area.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Farmers in North Dakota’s Devils Lake Basin, beset with both rising lake water and a late, wet spring, haven’t given up on planting just yet.

“We’re going to get all we can,” says Darryl Biby, who farms in the Churchs Ferry, N.D., area.

Even so, he estimates that the rising waters of Devils Lake will allow him, at best, to plant less than half of his farmland this spring.

Farmers across the region are struggling with wet fields. That’s true in the Devils Lake Basin, too: fall rains and heavy snows left many fields saturated, and frequent showers this spring haven’t allowed them to dry out.

More rain fell over the Memorial Day weekend in the Devils Lake area, stopping planting once again.

By the end of May, farmers in the area had planted only about a third of the acres they hoped to, estimates Bill Hodous, Ramsey County Extension Service agent.

The Devils Lake Basin occupies Ramsey and Benson counties. Farmers in the two counties grow many crops, including wheat, soybeans, barley, corn, canola, sunflowers, dry beans and flax.

But producers in the Devils Lake Basin — the lake and the largest town in the affected region of north-central North Dakota share the name — face another obstacle besides the wet spring.

Devils Lake has risen 30 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993, when the rise began. Another 3-foot rise is projected this summer, which will swamp even more farmland and close some roads, preventing access to 20,000 to 30,000 acres, Hodous says.

Insurance questions

Some farmers will use their prevented planting insurance, which provides coverage when extreme weather conditions prevent planting, officials say.

“There’s going to be a fair amount of prevent plant” because some land is “inundated by this Devils Lake beast,” says Scott Knoke, Benson County Extension Service agent.

However, a farmer can’t get the insurance unless he’s planted and insured the crop in at least one of the three previous years, a requirement that many fields in the Devils Lake area can’t meet.

Crop insurance also has planting deadlines, which vary from crop to crop and area to area. Most of the deadlines come in May or early June, although several farm groups are seeking extensions for some crops.

Farmers who haven’t been able to plant their fields must decide whether to accept a prevented-planting payment or plant the crop anyway. These late-planted crops carry the risk of lower yields and reduced insurance coverage.

Many producers in the Devils Lake area will continue planting into June, even if that means less insurance coverage, on fields that haven’t been claimed by rising lake waters, Hodous predicts.

Losing so much land to the lake makes farmers even more anxious to plant the land that remains, officials says.

Strong crop prices also motivate farmers to plant all they can, Hodous says.

Canola, which can yield well even when planted late, according to some research, is a good candidate for late planting. Flax also might draw attention from farmers with unplanted fields, he says.

“Guys aren’t giving up. They’re going to do all they can to plant,” Hodous says.

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