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Published November 12, 2012, 10:16 AM

Leftover 2011 moisture aids northwest ND farmers

Wet conditions in the spring of 2011 prevented Kent Nehring from planting two-thirds of his cropland. But the moisture that caused so much trouble last year paid off for the Willow City, N.D., farmer this growing season.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Wet conditions in the spring of 2011 prevented Kent Nehring from planting two-thirds of his cropland. But the moisture that caused so much trouble last year paid off for the Willow City, N.D., farmer this growing season.

“We were happy with our crop this year. We had moisture (from 2011) still in the soil and that really helped,” he says. His barley yields were the best he’s had in more than 40 years of farming, and his corn, wheat and soybean did well, too. The exception was his canola, which was hurt by hot weather during a crucial time in its development.

Many farmers in northwest North Dakota didn’t get yields as good as Nehring’s, but on balance, they also enjoyed a successful 2012 crop, despite the drought, farmers and others say.

“It was a huge year for growers in northwest North Dakota,” reflecting a combination of strong prices and generally average or better yields, says John Woodbury, who manages Dakota Quality Grain Cooperative’s location in Ross, N.D. “And we couldn’t have done it without all the (subsoil) moisture we had.”

Much of the Upper Midwest had excess rain in the spring of 2011 — moisture that came in handy during the dry 2012 growing season. But the pattern was particularly pronounced in northwest North Dakota.

Last year, as much as 90 percent of cropland in some parts of western North Dakota couldn’t be planted because of heavy spring rains. Overall, roughly half of fields in the area weren’t planted, Woodbury estimates.

Last fall, winter wheat was planted on some northwest North Dakota fields too wet to plant in the spring of 2011. Those winter wheat fields were harvested this summer and yielded well, from 50 to 100 bushels per acre, and the crop sold at unusually good prices, Woodbury says.

Some winter wheat fields grossed as much as $600 to $800 per acre, an exceptionally good return for the crop in northwest North Dakota, he says.

Sunflowers, corn

Sunflowers fared particularly well this growing season because their root system allowed them to tap into deep subsoil moisture, says Doug Opland, a Des Lacs, N.D., farmer.

Corn, which is becoming more common in northwest North Dakota, also benefitted from deep subsoil moisture, he says.

Northwest North Dakota is often short of moisture, so farmers there seldom complain about precipitation.

“I complained because there was just so much rain at planting,” Opland says of spring 2011. “But this summer, when it turned dry, that moisture carried the crops through. We wouldn’t have had near the bushels (this year) without it.”

His area has received considerable precipitation this fall, slowing harvest. When Agweek called, Opland estimated he needed four more days to finish combining his sunflowers.

But he’s not complaining. “We’ll get the rest of the sunflowers off,” he says. “We’re just happy to get this moisture.”

Much of northwest North Dakota has received above-average precipitation this fall, Woodbury says.

Much of the area has enough moisture to get the 2013 crop off to a good start, though more rain will be needed during the growing season, he says.

“So 2013 is setting up to be another good year,” he says.

He expects that northwest North Dakota farmers will plant even more corn and soybeans next spring, much of it at the expense of durum.

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