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Published May 13, 2013, 09:49 AM

A late, not-so-great spring

Agweek takes a trip through central North Dakota to hear from farmers about what. so far, has been a cold spring that has delayed planting

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The calendar says spring, but the thermometer has told Ron Dockter differently.

“I had to wear my insulated coveralls again this morning. I’d like to put them away,” says Dockter, assistant manager of G & R Grain & Feed in New Rockford, N.D.

That’s the kind of spring it’s been in central North Dakota. An Agweek trip through the area in early May, which included stops in Hamberg, Bremen and New Rockford, found that a cold April delayed snow melt — and the start of planting. Dockter and others say planting isn’t expected to start, at the earliest, until the middle of May, two or three weeks later than normal.

When Agweek visited the area, persistent mounds of snow remained in ditches, shelter belts and even on a few fields. Newly melted water covered parts of many fields.

Blame late-spring snowstorms and the exceptionally chilly April. The typical average daily April temperature for central North Dakota is in the low 40s; this year the average daily temperature was in the high 20s.

Two numbers from the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network indicate how cold this April was in central North Dakota.

In Harvey, to the west of Bremen, Hamberg and New Rockford, the average daily temperature in April was 14 degrees below normal.

In Carrington, to the east of Bremen, Hamberg and New Rockford, the average daily temperature was 16 degrees below normal.

The late, cold spring could reduce the amount of corn that central North Dakota farmers plant this year. The crop, once rare in the area, has been catching on because of its greater profitability.

Following is a recap of Agweek’s trip through the area.

HAMBERG, N.D. — Stan Trenary looks at a computer screen in the Hamberg station of the Fessenden (N.D.) Cooperative Association. On the screen is a weather forecast for the next few weeks.

“The last thing we need is rain. We need to start planting,” he says.

Wet fields will delay planting until the middle of May, although work could begin a little earlier on a few fields that don’t hold moisture well, he says.

One sign of how wet this spring is:

Just west of Hamberg, population 21, a few inches of recently melted water flow over a low spot on the main road leading into town. Highway signs block off a stretch of the road, but motorists routinely go around the signs and drive through the water.

Trenary, who manages the Hamberg station, is its only employee.

“Well, actually, there are three. Me, myself and I,” he says with a smile. “When one of us gets tired, another takes over.”

Once, durum, used to make pasta, was the most popular crop in the Hamberg area.

Now, durum is rare in the area, with corn and soybeans increasingly common.

“There’s been a lot of interest in corn,” he says. “But it’s getting late for corn. We’ll have to see what happens.”

BREMEN, N.D. — Bremen has a bar, a whitewashed Lutheran church and half-dozen houses.

It’s also home to a branch of Allied Grain, based in Edgeley, N.D. The Bremen location handles seed, chemical and fertilizer.

When Agweek visited, farmers in the Bremen area were roughly two weeks away from the start of planting, says Robert Ogren, manager of Allied’s Bremen location.

Some farmers, who weren’t able to get to equipment stored outdoors because of slow-to-melt snow, haven’t quite completed their planting preparations.

“A few guys are still finishing up,” he says.

He expects to see more corn and soybeans, and less wheat, planted in the Bremen area this year.

Though planting is delayed, farmers remain optimistic about getting their crops in, he says.

NEW ROCKFORD, N.D. — Until late February, farmers in the New Rockford area hoped they might get off to an early planting start, just like they did in 2012, says Ron Dockter, the assistant manager of G & R Grain & Feed in New Rockford.

But March snows and April cold ended hopes of any early spring, he says.

G & R Grain & Feed was shorthanded this winter. Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, who owns and manages the business, was busy with his legislative duties.

The North Dakota Legislature, which meets for 80 days in odd-numbered years, recently concluded its 2013 session.

“So we’ve been a man down. But now he’s coming back,” Dockter says of Pollert.

Corn is the most popular crop this spring with New Rockford area farmers, followed by soybeans and then wheat or barley, Dockter says.

He’s uncertain whether the late spring will reduce interest in corn, which is riskier to plant late than soybeans.

“I don’t know what summer brings,” Dockter says. “I just know we all want to get started planting.”