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Published November 07, 2008, 12:00 AM

Winter storm not good news for farmers

Heavy snow in the west and rain in the east are likely to further delay North Dakota’s already-late corn and sunflower harvests, possibly keeping some corn farmers in their fields into next year. “It all depends on when this shakes out and when we get a little sunshine back,” said Larry Kleingartner, executive director of the Bismarck-based National Sunflower Association.

By: By Blake Nicholson, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun

BISMARCK — Heavy snow in the west and rain in the east are likely to further delay North Dakota’s already-late corn and sunflower harvests, possibly keeping some corn farmers in their fields into next year.

“It all depends on when this shakes out and when we get a little sunshine back,” said Larry Kleingartner, executive director of the Bismarck-based National Sunflower Association.

The Agriculture Department said earlier this week that slightly more than half North Dakota’s sunflower crop was harvested, when normally about 70 percent is in the bin. North Dakota leads the nation in the production of the crop, growing more than half of it annually.

The state’s corn harvest — expected to set a record this year — was even further behind. A little more than 10 percent of the combining was done, compared with about 70 percent on average.

A storm brought heavy snow and strong winds to western and central North Dakota on Thursday, and heavy rain in the east with the potential of flooding. The National Weather Service said more snow was likely in the central and east on Friday.

“Nobody likes to see (crop) out when you have this kind of weather system going through,” Kleingartner said. “We’re not adding yield out there. It’s all on the downside. Any time we’ve got wind like we’ve had, you’re going to have some losses.”

Freezing rain and heavy snow can break sunflower stalks, and snowy fields can hamper combines. Eight years ago, heavy snow that hit northern North Dakota in November and December pushed some of the sunflower harvest as late as into May the next year.

Kleingartner said many farmers went well into the night earlier this week to get as much harvested as possible before the storm hit. He estimated about a third of the crop statewide remained to be harvested, much of it in south central North Dakota.

In the southeast, corn was a bigger worry. “We’re way behind,” said Wallie Hardie, who farms near Fairmount in Richland County.

Hardie said wet conditions make it tougher to get into fields. They also elevate the moisture content of corn kernels, increasing drying costs, and hamper plowing to set up the fields for next year’s crop.

With the right harvesting equipment, Hardie said, “You can keep going as long as the snow stays away. As far as getting the crop off, a heavy, heavy snowfall is probably the thing that would be the killer.”

Hardie said that four years ago, he didn’t finish harvesting his corn until mid-December. Kleingartner said it might be even later this year.

“We’re probably going to see a lot of corn harvested in January,” he said.

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