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Published June 17, 2014, 04:22 PM

Heavy rains hurt farmers across the region

Heavy rains across parts of the Upper Midwest June 14 to 16 ended the planting season for many farmers and threaten the fields of some others.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Heavy rains across parts of the Upper Midwest June 14 to 16 ended the planting season for many farmers and threaten the fields of some others.

Two of the biggest trouble spots are in the Dickinson, N.D., area, where many fields won’t get planted, and in the Sioux Falls, S.D., area, where torrential rains will force some farmers to make difficult decisions.

Even before the recent rains, planting was delayed in the Dickinson area, in southwest North Dakota. About 25 percent of cropland there hadn’t been planted by the middle of June, according to several estimates.

Though farmers once had hopes of planting many of the remaining acres, the mid-June rains “pretty much shut it down,” says Byron Richards, a Belfield, N.D., producer.

“It’s such a frustration to get anything in (planted) this year. What’s still out there (unplanted) is just so wet,” he says

Some farmers in the area haven’t given up completely on planting more sunflowers, traditionally the last crop to be planted in the area, he says.

“But the window for planting ‘flowers is getting pretty narrow. The problem isn’t just less yield (from late planting); you also have an awful time to get them to dry down (for storage) in the fall. You really have a lot of expense in drying them,” he says.

Much of southwest North Dakota, which often battles drought, entered the spring unusually wet. Then, “We were catching those 1½- to 2-inch rains and they just wouldn’t stop. That’s so unusual in our area,” Richards says.

Because it was so wet, some farmers were even planting wheat in the middle of June, far later than normal, he says.

Planting progress varies greatly, he says.

Some southwest North Dakota farmers have planted all or nearly all of their crops, while others were able to plant only half of their acres, he says.

‘Real serious condition’

Planting in the Sioux Falls area southeast South Dakota was wrapped up before the recent rains. But farmers there face a different problem than their counterparts in southwest South Dakota.

The Sioux Falls area received 7.7 inches of rain June 14 to 16, leading to flooding that forced Interstate 29 to close temporarily.

The precipitation also has caused water to pool on some fields in the area, which, while not totally flat, doesn’t have many hills, says Anthony Bly, Sioux Falls-based soils field specialist with South Dakota State University Extension.

“It’s a real serious condition. With all the rain that’s come, we’ve got some submerged fields. How long the crop can survive depends on how long the water stays put,” he says.

It’s also too early to tell how crops will be affected in other ways, he says.

For instance, fertilizer might need to be reapplied to some fields. “But a lot of the water is running off, so it’s hard to tell (about reapplication of fertilizer),” Bly says.

“There are decisions that will be made once the soil dries up and the crop can be evaluated,” he says.

Parts of southeast South Dakota were dry before the recent heavy rains, he notes.

“We were really concerned about that. It’s just unfortunate we had to get this,” he says.

Some areas of South Dakota received little precipitation recently and remain dry.

“We wish this could have been more spread out,” he says of the recent rains.

Read more about the mid-June rains and their effect on area crops in an expanded article in the June 23 issue of Agweek.