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Beach (N.D.) Cooperative grain elevator general manager Levi Hall examines green peas at the facility on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. Nick Nelson / Agweek

Beach, ND, crops: Great start, too-dry finish

BEACH, N.D. — Farmers in the Beach area worried about moisture going into the 2018 crop season. Cooperative weather allayed those concerns and raised hopes early in the growing season, but a nearly two-month dry stretch undercut what had been a promising crop.

At the end of June, "Things were looking good. And then July came, with no rain, and then no rain in August until the 25th — that hurt," says Levi Hall, general manager of Beach Cooperative Grain Co., which serves a wide area of southwestern North Dakota and part of southeastern Montana.

Beach, population about 1,100, is the county seat of Golden Valley County, which has about 1,850 residents. Small grains and cattle traditionally dominate agriculture here, but other crops, including corn, canola, sunflowers and pulses, are grown, too. Specialty crops such as oats, mustard and flax are raised, as well.

The Beach area, like much of the region, suffered devastating drought in 2017, clouding the 2018 crop outlook. But heavy spring rains partially recharged soil moisture.

"Normally we get into fields in early to middle April. This spring, because it was so wet, we didn't get started until early May," he says.

Dried lentils process down equipment to be graded and sorted at the Beach (N.D.) Cooperative grain elevator.The later-than-normal start wasn't ideal, but farmers considered that a small price to pay for the much-needed moisture. More useful rain fell in June, bolstering young crops and farmers' hopes, Hall says.

But going all of July and nearly all of August without significant precipitation, especially after the 2017 drought depleted subsoil moisture, inevitably hurt crops, he says.

Small grains, which typically are planted first and mature relatively early, held up fairly well.

"Small grains were a little above average (in yields). Still a little disappointing, though, for what guys were expecting. With the early rains, we saw some real nice stands, some real nice heads. But we also had a lot of wheat growers with some really small kernels; those heads just ran out of gas (moisture)," he says.

Later-harvested crops, which rely on July and August rains even more than spring wheat, generally were hurt more by the long dry stretch.

Sunflowers, which fare relatively well in dry conditions, held up better than most other late-harvested crops. They still promise average to above-average yields, though yields would have been even better with mid- and late-summer rains, Hall says.

The sunflower harvest will begin in early November in the Beach area.

The area's corn crop — harvest of which will begin in earnest in early October — was hurt badly, however. Corn has averaged 100 to 120 bushels per acre in recent years in the Beach area. This year, 60 bushels per acres appears likely.

"We'll see a lot of half-filled cobs and smaller, thinner cobs than normal, so 60 bushels would be a good guess," he says.

But Hall thinks farmers in the Beach area will stick with corn. The crop fit well rotationally with pulses, a popular crop in southwest North Dakota and southeast Montana.