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Published April 30, 2012, 10:10 AM

Another 'screwy' year

For the second straight spring, farmers in much of northwestern North Dakota are experiencing what Ross, N.D.-based grain elevator manager John Woodbury calls “a screwy year.”

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

For the second straight spring, farmers in much of northwestern North Dakota are experiencing what Ross, N.D.-based grain elevator manager John Woodbury calls “a screwy year.”

But he says this spring —unusually warm, dry and early — is far preferable to the spring of 2011. A year ago, exceptionally wet conditions prevented roughly 6 million acres of North Dakota cropland from being planted. Northwestern North Dakota, which normally receives relatively little rain, was hit particularly hard by the wet weather and unplanted fields.

“Last spring, we couldn’t plant. We had no chance” (for a good crop). This spring, we can plant. We have a chance,” he says.

How big is the difference from a year ago? In some areas, 80 percent of fields never were planted last spring. In those areas this spring, 90 percent of fields have been planted or soon will be, Woodbury says.

Farmers in his area grow many crops, including spring wheat, durum, canola, barley and peas.

Canola acreage is rising in his area this year because of strong prices for the crop, while interest in durum has declined this spring, he says.

That reflects attractive canola prices and the difficulties that some farmers have had growing high-quality durum in recent years, Woodbury says.

‘Night and day’ difference

One of the worst-hit areas last spring was Ward County, which led the state with an estimated 576,000 unplanted acres, or roughly 63 percent of the county’s 907,825 cropland acres

Bob Finken, a Douglas, N.D., producer who farms in Ward County, says this spring and last spring are “like night and day.”

Last year, he struggled all spring with wet fields, ultimately getting in only a little more than half of his crop.

This year, he expected to start planting during the week of April 23. Some fields are still a little wet, but he’s optimistic of being to plant all or most of his crop.

Among the changes from a year ago: This year Finken expects to plant field peas, which he couldn’t do last year because of wet conditions.

In Renville County, in extreme northwestern North Dakota, less than 10 percent of the crop was planted in 2011.

At least that much has been planted already this spring, says LoAyne Voigt, county agent.

Planting began in earnest during the week of April 23, she says.

Because Renville is so far north, farmers in the county normally are satisfied if they start planting in earnest by May 1, she says.

Despite dry conditions since last fall, parts of many fields remain wet and farmers need to plant around those wet areas, she says.

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