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Published July 15, 2013, 10:00 AM

Hopes dashed in Harvey

A North Dakota farm town was hoping for dry weather in the second half of May and early June, but got wet weather instead, resulting in as much as a third of the area's cropland going unplanted.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Farmers in the Harvey, N.D., area were hoping for dry weather in the second half of May and early June. They got just the opposite.

As much as a third of the cropland in Wells County, in which Harvey is located, went unplanted this year because of a late, wet spring, estimates Eric Bollingberg, executive director of the Wells County Farm Service Agency.

“Somewhere between a fourth and a third (went unplanted). Probably closer to a third,” he says.

Some farmers were able to plant 80 to 90 percent of their acres. Other producers, for whom conditions were even less favorable, planted only 40 or 50 percent of their ground, he estimates.

Much of the blame goes to wet weather in late spring. From the middle of May through June 10 — the period in which dry weather was needed most — “We had rain every four or five days,” he says. “It was very challenging.”

The May 13 Agweek cover story looked at the planting outlook in Harvey, a farm town of 1,800 in central North Dakota. Farmers in Wells County raise virtually all the other crops, except for potatoes and sugar beets, found elsewhere in the Upper Midwest.

The cover story, based on conversations in early May with farmers and other agriculturalists in the Harvey area, found that planting wouldn’t begin there until the middle of May because of a cold, late spring.

Harvey’s average temperature in April was only 29 degrees, 14 degrees below normal, according to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network. When Agweek visited in early May, some sloughs were still iced over and standing water covered big chunks of many fields.

The mercury cooperated in the second half of May and early June, with Harvey’s average temperature for the period reaching 58 degrees, only 1 degree below normal, according to NDAWN.

But Harvey received 6.86 inches of rain in the period, 4.3 inches more than normal. At least half an inch fell on six different days this year, with at least a tenth of an inch falling on 13 days.

Fields became so wet that the additional moisture from even a light rain would shut down planting, Bollingberg says.

Farmers in the Harvey area and elsewhere in Wells County struggled with the difficult decision of trying to “mud in the crop” (plant in extremely wet conditions) or take prevented planting insurance, he says.

Corn acres take hit

Corn’s popularity has been growing steadily in Wells County. With better conditions this spring, the number of corn acres would have risen again. Wet conditions, however, cut sharply into corn plantings, Bollingberg says.

“We lost a lot of corn,” he says.

Some of the Wells County crop, particularly fields that were planted early, look good. But late-planted crops, especially corn, are at risk from frost, he says.

“If we have a normal freeze, it will hurt the corn. It will hurt everything.” he says. “We have a long ways to go.”

Warm temperatures in late June and late July have accelerated crop growth, which helps. But many fields need rain, he says.

“I think everybody would take half an inch to an inch,” he says.

“Whatever happens during the rest of the growing season, 2013 will be remembered for difficult planting conditions,” he says.

“It was a spring unlike any other.”