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Published July 02, 2012, 09:47 AM

Slower go on crop growth

Expect an early wheat harvest in the Upper Midwest — just not as early as anticipated a few weeks ago.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Expect an early wheat harvest in the Upper Midwest — just not as early as anticipated a few weeks ago.

Several weeks of cool, wet weather have slowed crop development across much of the Upper Midwest. But crops generally remain more advanced than normal, and winter wheat harvest could begin in early July, a little sooner than usual, in parts of South Dakota.

“It depends on the weather,” particularly the extent and timing of rains, Randy Englund, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, says of the advent of winter wheat harvest in his state.

Wheat, a cool-season grass, typically is the first of the region’s three major crops (wheat, corn and soybeans) to be harvested. Winter wheat, planted the previous fall, typically is harvested several weeks before wheat planted in the spring.

Rail car outlook is good

One piece of good news for farmers in the region: an early harvest isn’t expected to pose problems for the availability of rail cars.

“We’ll be ready,” Suann Lundsberg, director of media relations for BNSF, the region’s dominant shipper, tells Agweek.

Brian Eggebrecht, president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, and a farmer in Malta, in north-central Montana, is optimistic about the rail car outlook.

“We don’t have any reason to think there will be a rail car shortage,” he says.

The mild winter and early spring allowed area farmers, on balance, to begin planting much earlier than usual this week. By early June, many fields were considerably more advanced than normal.

“If you’d asked me two weeks ago, I’d have said our crops were two, three weeks ahead of normal,” Eggebrecht says.

By the end of June, crops were perhaps a week or two ahead of normal, he says.

Inevitably, farmers in some areas have severe weather-related problems, particularly in a state as large as Montana, Eggebrecht says.

But overall, the crop looks good across most of the state. Widespread rains after Memorial Day in east-central Montana, where moisture had been a major concern, is particularly encouraging, he says.

“It’s hard to have any complaints.”

In Minnesota, wheat crops were still two weeks ahead of normal in late June, says Dave Torgerson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers.

Spring wheat harvest could begin as early as mid-July, he estimates.

Rainfall across Minnesota has been erratic, and the condition of wheat fields is correspondingly mixed, he says.

“The crop just looks to be really variable,” Torgerson says.

Examples of cool weather

The numbers, from the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, show how cool it was in much of the region from June 7 to June 20:

n The daily high temperature in Brorson, Mont. was below normal on nine of the 14 days in the period. The daily high was 12 degrees below normal on two days, 10 degrees below normal on one day and 9 degrees below normal on two days.

n The daily high temperature in Carrington, N.D., was below normal on nine of the 14 days in the period. The daily high was 23 degrees below normal on one day and 15 degrees below normal on another.

To be sure, parts of the region weren’t unusually cool from June 7 to June 20. For instance, Britton, S.D., experienced nine days of above-normal highs, including five days when the high was at least 10 degrees above normal. But Britton also had a number of cooler-than-normal days, including one on which the high was 12 degrees below normal and another when the high was 9 degrees below normal.

Cooler weather has been good for spring wheat, coming at an important time in its development, says Joel Ransom, North Dakota State University Extension Service agronomist, cereal grains.

He estimates that winter wheat harvest in North Dakota will begin in the middle of July, with spring wheat harvest beginning late in the month.