Red River Valley farmers are hitting the fields early to get small grains in the bin, but some are worried later crops such as soybeans and corn could be in trouble if rain doesn't come soon.
Combines started rolling in the fields this week, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture received scattered reports of producers beginning the hard red spring wheat harvest in North Dakota and Minnesota, according to crop progress reports released by the agency early this week.
"I'm really optimistic about our barley and spring wheat crop," Walsh County Extension Agent Brad Brummond said. "We're about a week to 10 days ahead."
North Dakota farmers are forecast to produce 312 million bushels of spring wheat this year, up 50 percent from last year, according to the USDA's crop production report from July 12. Minnesota could harvest 104 million bushels, a 38 percent increase from last year, the report said.
Ag leaders and economists have told the Herald crops are doing well, for the most part, across the U.S. Spring wheat crops in Minnesota's Pennington and Marshall counties have held "pretty well" despite hot and dry weather during the summer, said Bill Craig, the extension agent for both counties. It was too early to tell what type of yields farmers would see.
Pennington and Marshall had ample rain early in the growing season, Craig said. There are some dry and wet spots that hurt some parts of the two counties, he said, but overall, he expects the quality and yields to be good.
"There are some combines rolling," he said. "I haven't heard any yields. We just really started."
Walsh County could see a good to average wheat crop, though some spots have produced poorer yields, Brummond said.
Most farmers in Polk, Red Lake and Clearwater counties are expecting lower spring wheat yields than last year, said Heather Dufault, interim University of Minnesota Extension ag educator for the three Minnesota counties.
"Early spring and summer heat kind of pushed the crop a little bit too fast," she said, adding some crops have seen more disease and insect infestation than previous years. "I think they are expecting a little bit less, hoping for a little bit more."
Brummond said he was really concerned about corn, soybeans and edible beans because there has been a lack of rain recently.
"We've reached a critical point, to be honest with you," he said of beans. "We've had hot weather. We've had dry weather. We're running out of water."
July was wetter than normal for Grand Forks, according to the National Weather Service's monthly summary. The city saw 4 inches of rain last month, or about 0.8 inches above normal, the summary said.
Walsh County hasn't seen the rain Grand Forks has, Brummond said. The story is more or less the same for parts of northwest Minnesota, with soybeans and corn seeing stress from dry weather, Craig and Dufault said. If rain comes in the next week, farmers still could harvest a good bean crop, Brummond said.
Producers likely will start to lose out on yields if crops go without rain for another week, Brummond said.
"There are plenty of blossoms in some of these fields, but now the story is going to be how many of those blossoms or pods are we going to lose," he said.
Farmers planted 6.6 million acres of soybeans in North Dakota and 7.8 million acres for the crop in Minnesota, according to USDA estimates. North Dakota also has an estimated 3.55 million acres of corn in the ground, while Minnesota planted 7.8 million acres, the USDA said.
The July report did not forecast yields for corn or soybeans.
It's unclear what kind of weather August will bring, the weather service said, though a chance of showers and thunderstorms are in the forecast Thursday into the weekend for the north Valley.