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Published June 10, 2013, 09:28 AM

Tough spring for planting

Northeast ND farmers struggle with heavy rains

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Parts of northeast North Dakota have received as much as 12 inches of rain in the past few weeks, and some fields probably won’t get planted, area ag officials say.

“It’s so late, and it’s so wet,” says Brad Brummond, Walsh County extension agent.

Slow-to-melt snow this spring delayed the start of planting, so the heavy rains worsen an already bad situation, he says.

Planting rates vary greatly. Some farmers have planted most of their crops, while “others have barely turned a wheel,” he says.

Further, standing water almost certainly has ruined some of the crops that were planted, he says.

“We have corn fields with a foot of water over them,” he says.

Tom Kennelly, a Grafton, N.D., farmer says many fields in his area are so wet “that they haven’t even been touched yet.”

Potatoes, sugar beets

Though it’s late, there’s still hope for planting potatoes, a major crop in northeast North Dakota, says Andrew Robinson, North Dakota State University/University of Minnesota Extension potato agronomist.

Spuds potentially could be planted into the middle of June, he says.

The price of red potatoes is relatively strong, which provides incentive to plant them even if late planting cuts into yields, he says.

Sugar beets, another prominent crop in northeast North Dakota, also have been affected by the wet weather.

American Crystal Sugar, a Moorhead-Minn., based cooperative, had authorized 458,000 acres of beets this year. As of June 5, only 418,000 acres had been planted, with northeast North Dakota accounting for much of the shortfall, says Jeff Schweitzer, company spokesman.

“It’s a very cold, very wet and very late spring,” he says.

American Crystal Sugar members are obligated to continue trying to plant their beets until June 10.

Northwest Minnesota, in contrast, generally has fared better than northeast North Dakota.

In Kittson County, in extreme northwest Minnesota, some fields are wet and may not get planted, says Roger Quanbeck, market president of United Valley Bank in Hallock, Minn.

“But we’ve missed the big rains they had to the west (in northwest North Dakota). We know it could be a lot worse here,” he says.

Insurance considerations

Further clouding the planting outlook in northeast North Dakota:

The final planting date, or the date by which a crop must initially be planted to receive full federal crop insurance coverage, has passed for most crops. Though crops can be planted after the final planting date, the coverage level is reduced.

Producers should check with their insurance agents, ag officials say.

Brummond and others say some northeast North Dakota farmers are interested in crops such as millet or buckwheat that don’t require a long growing season.

The thinking is, farmers will want something growing on their fields instead of having them be bare.

Kennelly, the Grafton farmer, says he hasn’t given up on planting more this year.

But the weather needs to start cooperating, he says.

“The sun comes out for a day or two and we think we might be able to start planting. Then it clouds up and starts to rain again,” he says.