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Published June 18, 2012, 09:30 AM

Chilly day, good-looking crops

On a normal mid-June day in the Upper Midwest, many farmers apply chemicals to their crops or take a first cutting of alfalfa. But a recent Agweek trip through parts of Benson, Pierce and Bottineau counties in north-central North Dakota didn’t take place on a normal mid-June day. The day of the trip provided the worst possible weather to spray crops or cut alfalfa: rain clouds filled the sky, temperatures fell south of 50 degrees and a stiff, cold wind shook even the stoutest evergreens in shelterbelts.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

On a normal mid-June day in the Upper Midwest, many farmers apply chemicals to their crops or take a first cutting of alfalfa.

But a recent Agweek trip through parts of Benson, Pierce and Bottineau counties in north-central North Dakota didn’t take place on a normal mid-June day. The day of the trip provided the worst possible weather to spray crops or cut alfalfa: rain clouds filled the sky, temperatures fell south of 50 degrees and a stiff, cold wind shook even the stoutest evergreens in shelterbelts. Several agriculturalists in the area who talked with Agweek complained, not altogether in jest, about wind chill.

Despite the cold, wet and windy day, farmers and others in the area said fields generally look good.

Wheat and barley traditionally have dominated crop production in Bottineau County, which hugs the Canadian border. But even with the relatively short growing season, other crops, particularly canola, are making their mark.

Spring wheat is the top crop in Pierce and Benson counties, too. But canola and soybeans, among other crops, are increasingly important.

Father, son raising corn

WILLOW CITY, N.D. — North Dakota farmers are projected to plant a record 3.4 million acres of corn this spring.

Experts say a big reason for expanded corn acres is that some young farmers in the state who like the crop persuade older family members to begin growing it.

Brandon Nehring and his father, Kent Nehring, who farm near Willow City, reflect that trend.

Brandon began growing corn three years ago. Kent is growing it for the first time this year.

“Well, there’s some truth in that,” Kent says with a smile after being asked if he’s growing corn because Brandon talked him into it.

There’s definitely more corn in Bottineau County this year than in 2011, Brandon says.

Attractive corn prices and new, shorter-maturing varieties encourage farmers to grow the crop in areas such as Bottineau County where the growing season once was too short to raise corn, officials say.

Only 5,100 acres in Bottineau County were planted to corn in 2010 (the 2011 number isn’t available yet), according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Of the 5,100 acres, only 3,400 acres of corn for grain — as opposed to corn for silage — were harvested, NASS said.

In contrast, 216,000 acres of spring wheat and 90,000 acres of barley were harvested in 2010 in the county.

Crops of all types generally are doing well this year in Bottineau County, Brandon says.

He estimates that 80 to 90 percent of crops in his area are in good shape.

Canola was particularly popular at planting time this year because of that crop’s attractive price, Brandon says.

Last year, much of Bottineau County was extremely wet at planting. Brandon could plant only about 35 percent of his crop, with his father getting in about 25 percent of his fields.

Many farmers in the Upper Midwest were able to start planting early this spring. Not Brandon and Kent, who started at the normal time.

“It’s still real wet from last year,” even after the dry winter and spring, Brandon says.

Crops looking good

RUGBY, N.D. — Crops are off to a good start in the area served by Rugby (N.D.) Farmers Union Elevator Co., says manager Tim McKay.

Rugby is in Pierce County.

More corn and soybeans were planted in his area this year, he says.

“We have good moisture,” says McKay, who’s been at the elevator 10 years.

He’s heard reports, however, that some areas recently received as much as 3 to 5 inches of rain, which is more than producers wanted.

The Rugby elevator last year added 700,000 bushels of storage to its existing 1.8 million bushels.

Many grain elevators in the Upper Midwest have added storage in recent years because of expanding corn acres. Corn yields roughly three times as much per acre as wheat, which in turn requires elevators to have more storage.

Corn is still a relatively minor crop in most of the Rugby elevator’s trade area, so corn storage wasn’t much of a factor in the expansion, McKay says.

“We wanted to move trucks through a little faster,” he says.

Fighting the good fight

YORK, N.D. — Like many small towns in the Upper Midwest, York has struggled in recent decades. Its population dropped from 148 in 1960 to only 23 in 2010.

But the town still has the Farmers Union Oil Co. of York, which sells “fertilizer, chemicals, oil, tires and everything else but seed” to area farmers, says manager Clarence Nelsen.

“We’re still an independently owned, local cooperative, and there aren’t many of us left,” he says.

York is in Benson County.

Planting in the area began several weeks earlier than usual this spring, he said, and crops look good so far.

The big concern now is applying chemicals to crops — an impossible job on this wet, windy June day, he says.

About 75 percent of small grains in the York area were sprayed when Agweek visited, with spraying of row crops just beginning, Nelsen says, adding that the weather forecast for the rest of the week wasn’t favorable for spraying.

But he’s optimistic about the 2012 crop nonetheless.

“If we can get some rains at the right time, we should get a good crop,” he says.

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