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Published July 14, 2014, 09:24 AM

West-central ND crops look good, but need warmth

Most fields and pastures in Mercer County and southern McLean County in north Dakota are thriving, a blend of vibrant green and yellow that reflects ample moisture.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Most fields and pastures in Mercer County and southern McLean County in north Dakota are thriving, a blend of vibrant green and yellow that reflects ample moisture.

But there are patches of blue and brown, too, a sure sign that rains have been too persistent and heavy. Pools of standing water dot low spots in many fields, and some fields, covered with brown, year-old vegetation, were too wet to plant this year.

Now, with the overall crop off to a good but tardy start, “We need sunshine to push it along,” says Ron Kopp, an agronomist with Wholesale Ag Products West in Underwood, N.D.

That wasn’t happening on the early July day that Agweek visited the two counties. On a day they wanted to be haying and spraying, idled agriculturalists were forced to stare at rain clouds and weather forecasts. Even worse, the drizzly morning and afternoon followed a night of heavy rains that dumped hail and as much as 5 inches in some areas.

Wet weather has been common recently in west-central North Dakota.

“We work around the rains the best we can, and try to get our spraying done,” says Rick Tweeten, a Washburn, N.D., farmer.

The heavy rains that fell the night before Agweek’s visit followed a wet spring and early July. Hazen received about 7.7 inches of rainfall in May and June, about 2.7 inches more than usual for the two months, according to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network.

Most of Mercer and southern McLean counties began the growing season unusually wet, too, after repeated rains in the fall of 2013. Hazen received about 8 inches of rain in August, September and October, about 3.6 inches more than normal, according to NDAWN.

Many crops, including spring wheat, winter wheat, corn, soybeans and canola, are grown in the two counties. The small grains look particularly good, farmers and ag officials say.

So does the canola, which was flowering when Agweek visited. Sprawling fields of yellow-flowered canola, many on rolling hills, stood out from the green fields, pastures and hayfields around them.

Cattle are common in the two counties, and ag producers are anxious to cut and bale a potentially big hay crop. But recent rains make that difficult.

Canola isn’t the only source of yellow this summer. Yellow-blossomed sweet clover, always common in the area, is dominating many pastures and hay fields this summer. Weather conditions last fall and this spring favored sweet clover, and the plant has taken advantage.

Sweet clover, a biannual, was introduced into the U.S. from Europe and Asia in the 1700s. Initially considered a weed, it was found later to tolerate drought well and to make good forage. But cattle’s health can suffer if they eat too much sweet clover, according to information from North Dakota State University.

‘Persistence prevailed’

WASHBURN, N.D. — Like many farmers across the Upper Midwest, Rick Tweeten battled wet weather during spring planting.

Unlike many of his peers, Tweeten managed to plant all of his fields.

“It was a struggle, but persistence prevailed,” he says.

Tweeten raises spring wheat, pinto beans, corn and field peas. The small grains have done especially well because of cool conditions, he says.

Some of his fields received as much as 5 inches of rain in the previous 2½ weeks. West-central North Dakota ag producers often battle drought, so precipitation normally is welcome. But too much has fallen recently, Tweeten says.

The priority now is spraying crops, he says.

“We’re doing the best we can. We just need the weather to cooperate a little more,” he says.

‘We need it warm’

UNDERWOOD, N.D. — Wet springs haven’t been unusual recently in the Underwood area, Kopp says.

What’s different this year is that the wet spring and early summer followed an unusually wet fall.

“The subsoil was recharged from the wet October,” he says.

Because many crops are grown in the Underwood area, crop rotations can vary substantially. But farmers in the area typically rotate small grains, corn and oilseeds.

Wheat, a cool-season grass, is thriving. About half of the wheat crop has headed out, Kopp says.

There’s enough subsoil moisture that most wheat fields don’t need more precipitation this growing season, he says.

But there’s concern about late-planted row crops, particularly corn and soybeans, which aren’t as advanced as they should be.

“We need it warm. Low 80s, ample sunshine, not a lot of precipitation,” Kopp says.

Hail hits

HAZEN, N.D. — Dwight Grosz stands in a store, clutching a stack of oil filter cartons he just purchased. He plans to spend the rest of the drizzly afternoon changing oil on his farm vehicles.

“There’s not much else you can do on a day like this,” says the Hazen, N.D., farmer and rancher.

Much of Grosz’s crops were hammered by hail during the previous night. His fine-looking oats — “flat as a table-top,” he says — were devastated, and his sunflowers suffered heavy damage, too.

“I had some choice words at the time,” says Grosz, who was taking the damage in stride when he talked with Agweek.

“What can you do about it?” he says with a shrug.

He had insurance on his sunflowers, but not on his oats. He has hopes of baling what remains of his oats for hay.

Normally, Grosz raises wheat, sunflowers and oats, selling the first two and feeding the oats to his herd of 250 elk. His operation includes “selling hunts” to people who want to shoot an elk.

This spring, he planted more oats than usual and no wheat. His goal was rebuilding his oats stockpile. Now, after the hail, he’ll need to buy high-protein pellets to feed to his elk.

“We just have to deal with this (hail),” he says.

Anecdotal reports suggested several narrow bands of hail passed through Mercer and southern McLean counties. Agweek drove past a half-mile stretch of fields with obvious hail damage.

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