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Published August 18, 2014, 10:53 AM

Harvest, that special time of year

Wheat harvest is about to begin in south-central North Dakota, and yields could be among the highest ever.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

SOUTH-CENTRAL NORTH DAKOTA — Wheat harvest is about to begin in south-central North Dakota, and yields could be among the highest ever.

“The wheat looks really good,” says Clayton Martin, who has managed the Steele (N.D.) Farmers Elevator since 1987. He’s seen a lot of good wheat crops, and he thinks this year’s crop is one of them.

When Agweek visited Kidder and Burleigh counties in mid-August, the start of wheat harvest was less than a week away. Farmers and others were understandably reluctant to make predictions about yields — the rule of thumb is that you never know for sure about yields until a field is harvested — but agriculturalists were optimistic.

“It’s been cool, and that’s helped the wheat,” Martin says.

The wet spring forced many wheat fields in south-central North Dakota to be planted late. That could have led to trouble by exposing the crop, a cool-season grass, to more late-summer heat. But generally cool weather in July and the first half of August allowed wheat to develop nicely.

There are concerns, however, about other crops grown in the area. Farmers in Kidder and Burleigh counties raise many crops, including corn, soybeans and sunflowers.

The late, wet spring caused some corn, soybeans and sunflowers to be planted much later than normal, and the late-planted fields aren’t nearly as advanced as they should be. Agweek saw several cases where a field of heavy-headed, nicely developed sunflowers was on one side of the road, and a field of small-headed, less-advanced ‘flowers was on the other side.

Many fields, especially ones planted to corn and soybeans, need rain, and quickly. The wet spring helped recharge subsoil moisture, but subsequent rainfall has been limited.

Several producers in the two counties mention they’ve missed most of the big rains that have fallen to the west in Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital and second-biggest city.

When Agweek visited Kidder and Burleigh counties, seven-to-10-day forecasts predicted a 20 to 40 percent chance of rain on several days. Farmers and others in Kidder and Burleigh counties say rain in the week of Aug. 10 or early in the week of Aug. 17 would be wonderful, boosting corn, soybeans and sunflowers, but would have only a limited effect on the wheat harvest.

The combine’s roar

MCKENZIE, N.D. — Wade Anderson is combining yellow peas on a warm afternoon.

Strong winds bent over the crop, hindering the combine’s ability to pick it up. To reduce potential loss, he’s harvesting in only one direction, not back and forth as normal, which lengthens the time needed to finish the field.

But he doesn’t complain when he steps off the combine to talk with Agweek.

Farming often requires extra effort, and taking special care in harvesting is time well spent, he says.

Yields of the yellow peas, which he’ll use in his family’s feedlot, are good, he says.

He and his family also raise wheat, corn and soybeans.

Wheat harvest will begin in about a week, he says. He’s optimistic about yields, but reluctant to make predictions.

Crops overall “are looking pretty good. We could use rain, though,” he says.

Green and good

MENOKEN, N.D. — Tim Salter grew up in Menoken and has seen his share of dry, brown summers.

So Salter, who works part time at the Burleigh County Soil Conservation District Farm Garden near Menoken, appreciates how green the area remains in the middle of August this year.

“I remember years when everything was just so dry,” he says.

He adds, however, many producers have missed out on recent rains and need more moisture.

The Burleigh County Soil Conservation District acquired the Menoken Farm in 2009, with a goal of restoring soil health. A garden was added in 2011.

Visitors from across the county and the world have visited the Menoken Farm Garden through the years, Salter says.

Which crop is tops?

STEELE, N.D. — Clayton Martin remembers when wheat was the dominant crop in his area.

Now, though, “It might be corn. There’s still a lot of wheat, but there’s gotten to be a lot more corn,” he says.

Soybeans and sunflowers are common, too.

Wheat harvest should begin in earnest during the week of Aug. 18, later than usual, he says.

Late planting this spring means other crops also are less advanced than usual for mid-August, he says.

But the other crops should do all right if they have additional time to mature, Martin says.

“We’ll be OK if we get a late fall. And they’ve been more common the last few years,” he says.