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Published July 21, 2014, 10:29 AM

Crops doing well in erratic season

The weather has both hurt and helped the Upper Midwest spring wheat crop. On balance, though, the crop is doing reasonably well.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The weather has both hurt and helped the Upper Midwest spring wheat crop. On balance, though, the crop is doing reasonably well.

“There are pockets that aren’t so good. But overall, we’re OK,” says John Kringler, extension agent in North Dakota’s Cass County.

The wet spring hampered planting across most of the region, hurting potential yields in some wheat fields and causing the overall crop to be about two weeks behind its normal development. Many wheat fields still haven’t headed out, which they normally do by the middle of July.

As of July 13, 88 percent of South Dakota spring wheat had headed, with 63 percent headed in Minnesota, 61 percent in North Dakota and 68 percent in Montana, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wheat likes it cool

Because many wheat fields were planted late, they’re more susceptible than usual to mid-summer heat. Wheat, a cool-season grass, struggles in hot weather. Recent cool temperatures, however, have alleviated that concern, at least so far.

In some areas, spring wheat is thriving.

“The crop in my area just looks terrific. It’s probably one of the three best in the past 20 years,” says Darrell Davis, an Ipswich, S.D., farmer.

Eighty-one percent of South Dakota spring wheat was in good or excellent condition on July 13, according to NASS.

Many wheat fields in his area have enough moisture to carry them through harvest. That’s true of many other spring wheat fields across the region, too — a benefit of heavy rains earlier in the growing season.

On the downside, those rains prevented many wheat fields from being planted.

Kringler estimates about 10 percent of cropland in Cass County, in eastern North Dakota, wasn’t planted this spring. An official estimate of prevented-planting acres from the Farm Service Agency, also part of USDA, wasn’t available when this article was being prepared.

As is true throughout the Upper Midwest, some parts of Cass County, particularly ones that received heavy rains and with heavy soil that hold moisture well, have more prevented-planting acres than others, Kringer says.

Statewide, 82 percent of North Dakota spring wheat rated good or excellent on July 13. Fourteen percent was considered fair, with 4 percent poor or very poor.

Minn., Mont.

Heavy rains have hurt some planted wheat fields in Minnesota, says Dave Torgerson, executive director of the state Association of Wheat Growers.

He thinks Minnesota’s overall spring wheat yield this year won’t measure up to those of the past few years.

Fifty percent of Minnesota’s spring wheat was in good or excellent shape on July 13. Thirty-seven percent rated fair, and 13 percent was judged poor or very poor.

As is usually the case, Montana was drier this spring than the Dakotas and Minnesota, says Brian Eggebrecht, a Malta, Mont., farmer.

“There were some pockets where (too little) moisture was a problem. But they’ve picked up some rain since then,” he says.

In general, Montana’s spring wheat crop looks good, he says.

Sixty percent of the state’s spring wheat crop was in good or excellent shape on July 13. Thirty-six percent rated fair, with 4 percent poor or very poor.

A long stretch of hot weather would still hurt the region’s spring wheat crop, especially late-planted fields.

“But with just some average temps the rest of the way, we’ll be OK,” says Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission.

The area’s barley crop also is doing relatively well. Barley, like wheat, is a cool-season grass.

Once widely grown in the Upper Midwest, barley now is raised mainly in western North Dakota and northeast Montana.

Greg Kessel, a Belfield, N.D., farmer and a member of the North Dakota Barley Council’s board of directors, says this year’s crop is promising.

Eighty percent of the state’s barley crop was considered good or excellent on July 13. Seventeen percent rated fair, 3 percent poor or very poor.

Eggebrecht says Montana’s barley crop is doing fairly well, despite dry areas earlier in the growing season.

Fifty percent of the state’s barley rated good or excellent on July 13. Forty-four percent was judged fair, 6 percent poor or very poor.

More will be known about the condition of the region’s wheat crop after the annual Wheat Quality Council tour of fields in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota July 21 to 24. Look for an article in the July 28 print edition of Agweek.

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