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Published June 03, 2013, 11:42 AM

Planting plans wash out

The wet, late spring has wiped out any chance of North Dakota’s Cavalier County shattering its corn acreage this year.

By: Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The wet, late spring has wiped out any chance of North Dakota’s Cavalier County shattering its corn acreage this year.

“We had 5,000 acres of corn last year. That was a record,” says Ron Beneda, extension agent. “The original talk last fall was that we maybe were going to have four times that record — 20,000 acres would have been in this spring. Now, it’s back to the 5,000 acres.”

The late, wet spring, capped by a recent five-day period in which 2 to 9 inches of rain fell in parts of northeast North Dakota, changed all of that.

Now, many farmers in northeast North Dakota are rethinking their planting intentions, abandoning longer-season crops such as corn and switching instead to crops such as canola or beans.

Some are just getting back into their fields. Others are still waiting.

Brian O’Toole needed a boat to check his fields recently.

“I had land under 3 feet of water,” the Crystal, N.D., farmer says as he moved from field to field, seeding what little he could — wheat, sugar beets, potatoes and soybeans.

“It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, but it’s too wet to get in the fields,” he says. “We only got stuck once today, but we’re still out there trying.”

Goodbye bin-buster

Heavy rains between May 17 and 22 dropped as much as 9 inches of rain in some areas of northeast North Dakota.

While O’Toole managed to get 500 acres of wheat and 200 acres of corn planted before the rain, what crop has emerged is showing signs of stress. At this late date, he’s moving more toward sugar beets, potatoes and beans.

He’s further ahead than many other producers in northeast North Dakota. Some have not been able to get into their fields yet.

“As of today, we have not,” says Carl Tollefson, who farms near Osnabrock in Cavalier County. “It’s extremely frustrating. It’s such a sharp contrast from what we had last year. With every day that passes, the prospect of a good crop diminishes even more.”

Unlike some other producers, Tollefson’s current crop rotation prevents him from switching crops, he says.

“We’re ever hopeful and trying to remain positive,” he adds. “But the bin-buster is already gone.”

Rain ahead

The National Weather Service forecast rain for the latter part of last week. The forecast had called for more rain at a time when farmers needed fields to dry.

“It’s getting very serious, especially since we can’t break out into a good drying weather period,” Beneda says. “That last rain mostly just saturated our ground to the point where we need sunshine to dry those fields so we can get back in.”

Like Tollefson, farmers in parts of Pembina County also are waiting to return to their fields, according to Samantha Lahman, extension agent. Spurred by good prices, they too were looking to plant more corn this year.

“It really sounded like some farmers got really excited about putting in some corn. That’s just not going to be the case this year,” she says.

“We got in maybe a week of good farming ability before this rain came,” she says. “It’s going to be real tough. Some will have to replant. Near the Red River and in the Hamilton-St. Thomas area, there’s still water standing in the fields. They would need a full week of no moisture to get a crop in.”

Still, producers recall 2011, when planting stretched well into June, yet still produced record or near-record crops. That season, weather from mid-June to September was ideal.

“Most are hoping the weather will turn soon,” Beneda says. “With the equipment out there today, we can get a lot of crop in in a hurry, if we get the right weather.”

Early planting was done on higher ground, according to Beneda.

“Now, we’re going around low spots, dips and draws,” he says. “We’re just piecing up fields. You don’t like to do that, but it’s necessary.”

“We’re jumping from field to field,” O’Toole says. “I don’t think Better Homes and Gardens will be interviewing us this year.”