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Manvel, N.D., sugar beet farmer Scott Johnson is hoping he can return to harvest next week after several inches of snow and rain shut down harvest recently in the area. Johnson also has his entire crop of soybeans left to harvest. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Wet and snowy weather delays October harvest in Red River Valley

RURAL MANVEL, N.D.—October rains had stalled farmers in the Red River Valley trying to get their crops off the field, and this week's early snowstorm has pushed the finish line back even further.

Still, sugar beet and soybean farmer Scott Johnson is optimistic about the harvest.

"We're just hoping for some sunshine and warm weather," said Johnson, who has crops near Manvel.

As of Tuesday, the National Weather Service in Grand Forks reported 1.82 inches of rain for October, more than an inch above the average for the month to that date.

On top of that, snow blanketed the Valley Wednesday, with reports varying across the region. Grand Forks saw 5.7 inches while other places, like Larimore and Valley City, reported more than a foot, according to the weather service. About 5 inches fell in Pembina and Walsh counties, meteorologists said.

The first two days of the sugar beet harvest, which officially began Oct. 1, presented ideal conditions for harvesters. Then rain started to fall Oct. 3, slowly wetting the fields and eventually keeping farmers from fieldwork.

The snow will delay harvest even more, as snow tends to release moisture slowly, said Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture for American Crystal Sugar Co.

"It's very frustrating that we're not able to keep the harvest going," he said.

It's been several years since snow has fallen when most of the sugar beets still were in the field, Ingulsrud said. The Valley had about 44 percent of its sugar beets harvested as of Wednesday, he said.

The harvest is slightly behind schedule compared with other years, he said.

"Each year can be a little different," he said. "It's not that uncommon to get rain this time of year."

The completion rate for both crops varies depending on where in the Valley farmers have their fields, Johnson said. He had about 40 percent of his sugar beets harvested but hadn't started combining soybeans.

"Some guys are half done, and some haven't even started," he said. "It's kind of all over the board."

An early prepile start helped farmers get ahead, Ingulsrud said. Sugar beet producers had about 20 percent of their crop off the fields before the official start of harvest this month.

"That gave us a good head start," he said.

The weather likely will delay the soybean harvest, as well, said Nancy Johnson, executive director the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. Farmers in North Dakota had about 34 percent of the crop off the fields as of Sunday, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Last year at that time, 40 percent of the state's soybeans were in the bin, and this year's count is far behind the five-year average of 50 percent, the USDA said.

The soybean harvest in Minnesota was 37 percent done as of Sunday, ahead of last year's completion rate of 21 percent but behind the five-year average of 45 percent, the USDA said.

It's been a long time since farmers in North Dakota saw snow while soybeans on the ground, Nancy Johnson said.

"We're sure most soybeans will get harvested," she said. "The snow is concerning. ... There is no question about that."

There are reports of snow pushing soybean plants closer to the ground, she said, which can make it more difficult for combines to pick up the pods.

The good news is farmers on average are seeing better yields than expected, Nancy Johnson said. Hot days when the crop was blossoming dried up some crops, particularly in northeast North Dakota.

That prospect worried producers, but overall, North Dakota farmers have seen soybean crops between 30 bushels to the mid-30s, Nancy Johnson said.

"Farmers are feeling better about that," she said. "We're at least optimistic about the average. yield"

The silver lining for beets is the ones in storage are staying cool so sugar in the plants doesn't evaporate as quickly as it would in warm weather, Ingulsrud said. The wet weather shouldn't affect the quality of beets, but the plants will have more mud to clean off.

The crops need a few days of sun and without rain so fields can become dry enough to get machinery going again, Scott Johnson said.

Friday is supposed to bring sunny skies to the Valley, but the weekend may not be as cooperative, according to the weather service. There is a slight chance of rain Friday night into Saturday, with meteorologists forecasting snow Saturday night into Sunday. More rain is possible Monday and Tuesday, according to the weather service.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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