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Matt Nelson of Lakota, N.D., had crops get off to a slow start in 2018, but had a good June and July and then not much late-summer rain. Nick Nelson / Agweek

'Challenging' year wraps up for ND farmer

The 2018 crop season was "challenging," bringing adverse weather and reduced yields, Matt Nelson said. But what the Lakota, N.D., farmer will remember most and longest about 2018 is this:

"Nothing is more important than your personnel."

Nelson farms near Lakota, N.D., a town of about 650 in north-central North Dakota. Agweek followed Nelson through the 2018 crop season, and wraps up the series with this article.

Nelson raised wheat, canola, black beans and corn this year.

The 2018 crop was complicated during harvest when one of Nelson's farm employees left for a job in the oilfield and another was hurt seriously in a motorcycle accident.

The injured employee is recovering, but slowly, and still has a long rehabilitation ahead.

"We hope he'll be able to come back to work eventually. But we just don't know when," Nelson said.

"The weather was kind of crazy this year, but what really stands out to me was that the people who work on our farm are the most important thing," he said.

The erratic weather began with a late spring that delayed planting and put the fledgling crop behind schedule. But in June, unusually warm weather, coupled with good precipitation, allowed the crop to catch up and flourish.

July and much of August turned dry, however, and the once-promising crop deteriorated.

"If we had just caught one or two (rain showers) in July or August, it would have really helped," Nelson said.

The weather became even more uncooperative in the fall when Nelson's farm was hit early with heavy snows, the first on Oct. 10. That slowed and complicated harvest, though Nelson said some of his neighbors who grew soybeans (which he didn't raise in 2018) were affected more than he was.

He estimated that his overall yields in 2018 were down about 15 percent from the previous three to five years, reflecting three factors.

• Inadequate precipitation in July and August.

• Planting parts of some fields, adjacent to sloughs, that had been too wet to seed the previous few years. "We were happy to get them planted again, but the yields (in those areas) weren't as good as the rest of the field and that brought down the field average," Nelson said

• Increasing his no-till farming practices. Those practices will pay off in the long run, Nelson said, but there's a learning curve in implementing them and that may have affected yields this year. "We had some things to learn, but we'll get it figured out," he said.

Nelson grew on a family farm near Lakota. He earned a degree in aeronautics from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, 60 miles east of Lakota, and was a pilot out of state for many years.

He returned to Lakota in 2011 to farm and is always looking for ways to improve and strengthen his farming operation.

"You can never be satisfied," he said.

Despite the challenges that 2018 brought, he still enjoys farming.

"This may sound a little strange, but I'm already looking forward to next year's crop," Nelson said.