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Published May 12, 2014, 09:48 AM

Weather stalls planting in northwest Minn.

It’s mid-afternoon in early May, and Dave Olson, manager of the McIntosh (Minn.) location of the Fosston (Minn.) Tri-Co-op grain elevator, can count on one hand the patrons who have come into his business on this gray, drizzly day.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

It’s mid-afternoon in early May, and Dave Olson, manager of the McIntosh (Minn.) location of the Fosston (Minn.) Tri-Co-op grain elevator, can count on one hand the patrons who have come into his business on this gray, drizzly day.

“If we’d had three days of 70 degrees, this place would be a zoo,” he says. “But the way the weather’s been, this is what we get.”

A prolonged stretch of cool, wet weather in early May has shut down planting in the McIntosh area and most of the Upper Midwest. At this time of year, farmers should be busy in their fields and at ag businesses such as the McIntosh elevator. But as a recent Agweek swing through northwest Minnesota’s Polk County found, most fields are too wet and cold for that to happen.

Northwest Minnesota’s average temperature in April was 35.6 degrees, 5.3 degrees cooler than normal. Average precipitation for April was 2.84 inches, 1.52 inches more than average, according to the Minnesota Climatology Working Group.

That continued into early May. Northwest Minnesota’s temperature from April 28 through May 5 averaged 41.4 degrees, 6.9 degrees cooler than normal. Northwest Minnesota’s precipitation April 28 to May 5 averaged 0.89 inches, 0.44 inches more than average.

Farmers and others aren’t overly worried. But there’s concern, particularly since the National Weather Service forecasts below-average temper- atures and above-average moisture across the region during the rest of May.

Polk County is Minnesota’s top producer of spring wheat, dry beans, sugar beets and soybeans, according to the Minnesota office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But corn acreage in the county has soared in recent years, reflecting attractive corn prices and new varieties better suited to northwest Minnesota. Polk farmers planted 120,000 acres of corn in 2013, up from 113,000 acres in 2012 and 62,300 acres in 2011, according to NASS.

Corn acreage in the county is expected to slip this spring, but the extent of the decline will hinge on how soon conditions turn warmer and dryer. Warmer weather, in particular, is need for corn. Northwest Minnesota soil temperatures in early May ranged from the mid to high 40s; and corn generally can’t be planted safely until the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees.

Soybeans can be planted safely later than corn, so some fields slated for corn could be switched to soybeans if planting doesn’t start soon.

Here’s a closer look at what Agweek found on its May 6 trip through Polk County:

Taking it in stride

FISHER, Minn. — Tom Kraft, manager of Thompson Farmers Elevator in Fisher, Minn., has spent 31 years here. He’s seen all kinds of springs: dry, wet, late, early.

The spring of 2013 was among the late ones, he notes.

So Kraft isn’t too concerned about this spring’s slow start.

“But we’d sure like some better weather soon,” he says.

He estimates farmers in his area have planted about 10 percent of their wheat. Some sugar beets also have been planted.

Like other elevator managers who talked with Agweek, Kraft is optimistic that farmers in his area will have enough fertilizer this spring.

‘70 degrees would help’

CROOKSTON, Minn. — Farmers in the Crookston area are better off than many of their peers across the Upper Midwest, says Robert Staehnke, general manager of Mid Valley Grain Co-op in Crookston, Minn.

“But (daily temperatures of) 70 degrees would really help,” he says.

Warmer weather would both dry and warm fields that now are soggy and cold.

Crookston has received less rain this spring than much of the state.

It received 1.97 inches in April, compared with 2.84 inches in northwest Minnesota overall and the statewide average of 3.91 inches.

But Crookston has been unusually cool, even more so than the rest of the state. The city averaged just 37 degrees in April, 5.1 degrees below normal. Minnesota, overall, averaged 39.2 degrees for the month, 4.4 degrees below normal.

Staehnke thinks less corn will be planted in his area this spring. But weather in the next few weeks will determine how much less.

A pocket of dryness

MCINTOSH, Minn. — Farmers and ranchers in the McIntosh area don’t mind the wet spring as much as many Upper Midwest farmers.

“We were in a little bit of a dry pocket. So some of this moisture has helped,” says Dave Olson, manager of the McIntosh (Minn.) location of the Fosston Tri-Co-op grain elevator,

Still, continued precipitation into May has been too much of a good thing, he says.

Though the planting pace has been sluggish, a number of fields are planted in the area north of McIntosh, where sandy soil is common, he says.

Agweek saw several planted fields on rolling, sandy-knobbed ground north of town.

With just a little cooperation from the weather, many more fields will soon be planted, he says.

“Give us a few warm, dry days and we can be going again,’ Olson says.

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