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Published March 28, 2010, 12:00 AM

Corn comes out, finally: ND growers have been able to get to fields this week

Rick McDonald, Larimore, N.D., was custom combining corn Thursday out of season for grower Mark Ovind in a field along U.S. Highway 2 west of Emerado, N.D., across the road from the Air Force Base.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co.

Rick McDonald, Larimore, N.D., was custom combining corn Thursday out of season for grower Mark Ovind in a field along U.S. Highway 2 west of Emerado, N.D., across the road from the Air Force Base.

It’s part of a pretty good chunk of the state’s large corn crop still standing in snowy fields after a late and slow growing and curing season last year ended before it all got harvested.

“It went pretty good,” McDonald said of the late combining. “We got stuck a couple more times when the frost started coming out of the ground again today.”

He kept a tractor in the field to pull out the combine when it got stuck in the mud and water. He avoided the high drifts on the northern end of the field.

The cool weather, especially Thursday’s drop into the teens, was just the ticket, said McDonald, who took off about 200 acres of corn the past week or so.

“I’m glad we started when we did, because it would have been a really bad deal if we had waited any longer. We would be sitting on a lot of corn.”

Corn takes longer to grow and mature than other crops grown in the region, but has become much more popular in recent years as seed varieties and farming practices have improved to allow better performance in northerly regions. North Dakota farmers now grow about as much corn as the state’s signature crop, spring wheat.

McDonald hauled the corn directly from the field into nearby grain elevators in Arvilla and Larimore for drying down to 13 percent to 14 percent moisture.

The corn was coming off with moisture of 18 percent to 21 percent — probably 6 to 10 points lower than it started the winter at — and the yield was 100 to 120 bushels an acre, he said.

“My corn averaged about 120 bushels this year,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop statistics survey, only 3 percent of the total corn crop was harvested in February, leaving 24 percent in the field by March 1. No official numbers on March harvesting will be known until next week.

But relatively good harvest progress has been made this month, according to reports from farmers, said Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers.

A grower near Arthur, N.D., told Lilja Thursday that in the past 10 days, a third to half of the remaining corn acres in that region had been harvested. The grower’s corn came off in good condition, much improved, in fact, from the start of winter: it went from 31 percent moisture and 47 lb test weight on Dec. 7 to 18 percent moisture and 50 lb test weight when he combined it Wednesday, Lilja said. “It gained 3 lbs in test weight,” he said, which adds value to the crop.

Plus, the grower saved lots of money by having to dry the corn less to get to the 13 percent to 14 percent moisture level that is safe for storage.

A grower near Wimbledon, N.D., told Lilja on Thursday that nearly all the remaining corn acres there have been harvested the past 10 days or so. Any remaining corn in the Wimbledon area not combined by this weekend probably will have to wait until nearly summer because the ground will be too soft next week, Lilja said the farmer reported.

Meanwhile, in the biggest corn growing area of the state in Richland and Sargent counties, little corn harvest has been possible the past month because of high water and high snow.

The grower near Arthur figured that in that area, harvest of the 2009 corn crop could be complete by the end of April.

Which looks to be about planting time for the 2010 crop, Lilja said.

Different from a year ago, farm fields appear to be relatively dry with nearly all the snow gone, except in tree rows and corn fields, Lilja said.

“If the weather stays good, I think we could be seeing some field work in three weeks.”

Stephen J. Lee is a reporter at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.