After drought years, western North Dakota farmer welcomes moisture, despite the planting delays it caused
Beau Anderson planned to plant corn, peas, yellow lentils and canola on the 3,500 acres that he raises on his farm about 15 miles west of Williston.
WILLISTON, N.D. — On a late May day, Beau Anderson steered his John Deere tractor pulling a corn planter along a fence line, then through a gate where he unfolded the equipment’s wings and lowered them into last year’s meager wheat stubble.
With that, Anderson was ready to go and gain some ground on the spring.
Typically, he would have finished planting corn by early May, but 4 inches of rain — and wet snow before that — delayed the start to the 2022 farming season.
This year, Anderson finished planting corn May 25, 2022, and then started on his small grains. All told, he was about one-third done with spring planting by May 25.
As deadline dates for full crop insurance coverage loomed, Anderson was hoping, for the first time this spring, to string several days of fieldwork together. Up until the week of May 22, frequent rain and cool days kept him out of the field.
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Besides corn and small grains, he planned to plant peas, yellow lentils and canola on the 3,500 acres that he raises on his farm about 15 miles west of Williston.
While the moisture delayed planting, Anderson, who has raised cash crops and cows on his ranch for 22 years, wasn’t complaining.
The 2 feet of snow that fell in April , combined with May rains, replenished soil moisture and rejuvenated pastures that had been suffering from a drought that started in the summer of 2020.
The drought worsened last summer, reducing crop yields.
“There was very little harvest,” Anderson said. He used the corn that he had planned to sell as a cash crop for silage to feed his 300-head commercial Angus-Hereford crossbred herd through the winter of 2021-22.
“That was the only reason we could keep our cows through the winter,” he said.
In March, when the drought continued and didn't look like it would break anytime soon, he decided to sell about two-thirds of his herd.
Though the moisture situation has improved, Anderson doesn’t regret his decision to reduce his herd numbers.
The April snowstorms that followed the dry March took a toll on some of his remaining herd, and he felt fortunate that he didn’t have larger numbers to calve.
“We got plenty of good moisture, but the storms were so brutal that the calving of those pairs was brutal," Anderson said. The bacterial infections that developed in some of the calves after the storms also resulted in deaths.
Meanwhile, he got a good price for the cattle he sold, and the reduction in his herd numbers will mean less pressure on his pastures, which suffered from the drought.
Anderson eventually plans to build up his herd, but for now, will keep it at about 100 head of cattle.
“We were pretty tough on our pastureland last summer. We’ll let the grass grow a season or two,” he said.
During the week of May 22, Anderson was putting in long days to get as much crop in the ground as he could before a round of rain that was forecast to fall on the weekend.
“We’ve been going pretty good this whole week,” he said on May 25. “Last year was pretty hit and miss.”
If the rains that were forecast for the weekend fell, Anderson planned to re-evaluate his 2022 crop plan, likely reducing the amount of cool-season dry pea acres.
“If it continues to be wet and cool, if it gets flowering in July, it won’t make enough yield,” he said.
In late May, it still was too early to for Anderson to consider prevented planting as an option.
“It’s going to have to be pretty late to prevent plant,” he said. “The last time we did prevented planting was in 2011.”
Like many farmers, Anderson was banking on high commodity prices to offset reduced yields, providing him a higher return than the prevented planting option.
“It will be worth it,” Anderson said.
Then he paused.
“It’s like everything else, it’s a gamble,” he said.