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Published June 23, 2014, 09:51 AM

Mid-June storms hurt region’s farmers

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 this year. What’s still out there is just so wet,” he says

Some southwest North Dakota farmers 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 adds.

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.

The Farm Service Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, expects to have an estimate of prevented-planting acres in North Dakota by the middle of July, says Bryan Olschlager, an FSA official in North Dakota.

Prevented planting will be most common in southwest North Dakota, but other parts of the state have wet pockets, too, he says.

‘Real serious condition’

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

The Sioux Falls area received 7.7 inches of rain June 14 to 16. That led Gov. Dennis Daugaard to declare a state of emergency and to order the opening of the State Emergency Operations Center.

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.

The storm that hammered the Sioux Falls area also hit southwest Minnesota, where a 6-inch rain and 45-minute hailstorm hit at least one farm.

“Everything we farm is gone,” says Harley Buys of rural Edgerton, Minn., on June 17, 24 hours after a 6-inch rain and a 45-minute hail storm pummeled his fields between Edgerton and Leota. “We’ve still got banks of corn stalks and hail 3 feet deep. Hail’s still laying in the ditches, too.”

Heavy rains continued to fall on parts of southwest Minnesota June 16 to 18, with some areas receiving 3 to 8 inches.

Both Minnesota and South Dakota Extension offer information on coping with flooding.

In Minnesota: www.extension.umn.edu/ crops or www.extension.umn.edu/flood.

In South Dakota: igrow.org/livestock/ profit-tips/flooding.

Weather elsewhere

Recent rainfall totals varied greatly, says Ron Christensen, a Battle Lake, Minn., farmer and rancher

His family pastures cattle in Minnesota’s Mahnomen, Norman, Wadena, Douglas and Otter Tail counties. When he talked with Agweek, he had recently visited all of the pastures.

“It (rainfall from the mid-June storms) can change in such a short distance. It went from hardly any rain to 7 inches of rain just a little ways away, from what we heard,” he says.

His family’s farmland has light soil, so planting wasn’t a major problem this spring, he says.

He still has buckwheat to plant, but the crop normally is planted at this time of year, he says.

Pastures are thriving with all the rain, he says.

“It (grass) was slow to come. But every pasture looks great,” he says.

Montana wasn’t hit as hard by the cold, wet spring as the Dakotas and Minnesota.

One sign of that: as of mid-June, the Montana FSA state office hadn’t received any requests to extend the prevented-planting reporting deadline, says Bruce Nelson, state executive director.

The deadline to report prevented planting was extended to July 15 in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, reflecting planting problems in the three states.

Some parts of Montana and Minnesota have suffered hail damage recently, however, according to published reports.

Planting more potatoes?

Rains have hampered potato planting in North Dakota and western Minnesota, says Andy Robinson, North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota Extension potato agronomist.

As of June 16, North Dakota farmers had planted 92 percent of their potatoes, with Minnesota producers planting 96 percent of their spuds, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of USDA.

Potato planting is nearing an end, though some growers continued planting into July last year, which also was wet, Robinson says.

Planting so late increases the risk of fall frost damage, he says.

“If we have a mild fall like we had last year, we’ll probably be fine. But if we have an early frost, there could be problems,” he says.

One important difference from a year ago: Northern North Dakota, which was hit extremely hard by the late, wet spring in 2013, generally has avoided the worst so far in 2014.

“This year is better,” says Mark Miller, Rolette County extension agent.

About a third of cropland in the county wasn’t planted last year. Miller estimates that about 5 percent won’t get planted this year.

Members of Moorhead, Minn.-based American Crystal Sugar have wrapped up planting, putting 412,000 acres in the ground, says Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture for the company.

The beet crop still looks good overall, though heavy rains have hurt some individual fields, he says.

The greater use of tile drainage in the region has helped beets overcome wet conditions, he says.

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