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Duane Anderson, says the wheat yields look promising on his farm east of Leeds, N.D., near the townsite of Niles, and he’s hoping quality will be good. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

With dry areas in northeast North Dakota, farmer glad he dropped corn this year

LEEDS, N.D. — Duane Anderson, says the soybeans need rain but the wheat looks good on his farm east of Leeds, about 35 miles west of Devils Lake, N.D.

Anderson, 59, farms with his wife, Lisa, with part-time help of a local school teacher. This year he's raising only spring wheat and soybeans. This was the first year in 15 years he didn't raise corn. He's done canola and dry edible beans in the past.

The Andersons had a late spring, but haven't had substantial rains since. They picked up two-tenths of an inch here and there during July and August. "The soybeans are starting to show it, that we need rain," he says. The fields have a characteristic "grayish" cast when dry, and will likely "go negative in a hurry" without significant relief. Neighbors' corn is reaching for the sky and appearing to "cannibalize" itself for lack of moisture.

The driest area is north of U.S. Highway 2, toward Towner and Rugby. Some areas near Cando, N.D., have gotten more moisture. It's one of the dry regions in a summer of excessive rain for most farmers in the Dakotas.

Anderson's wheat appears to be good, fed by the early spring rains. He's sprayed fungicides, which may not have paid as much as normal because of the dryness. He's nervous about whether the healthy growth is going to allow good protein levels, which can bring a premium in the market. Anderson raised multiple wheat varieties this year and hopes some will be better than others for quality. He could use a desiccant and harvest by Aug. 10, but he thought he might hit the perimeters to control weeds for ease of harvest and wait until late August. He said he'd let it cure naturally and use the dryer he had installed for his corn crop.

Labor is a limiting factor. Last year the Andersons had some of the best wheat ever, with one field topping 100 bushels per acre. Their corn was the best ever, with yields averaging 151-bushels per acre.

Corn involves lots of bushels, and management of a continuous-flow dryer. "I could do 800 bushels an hour through it, but I don't have the manpower when I do the harvest," he said. Last year his part-time hired man had shoulder problems, so he and Lisa ran the combine and grain cart, stopping and drying intermittently.

"It was a slow process," he says.

He didn't get as much fall tillage done as he wanted to and the soybean harvest had to be finished in the spring.

Anderson jokes to people that he "knew it was going to be dry this summer," so he decided against corn crop. "In hindsight, I'm glad I don't have corn." "I think I've harvested corn in every month out of the year and I don't like this '560-day corn,'" he says. "It's nice to be done in the fall."

Weeds, herbicides

Soybeans east of Leeds are hanging on but will start to "go negative" without significant rain in the next week or two.Anderson contends with Roundup-resistant kochia weeds, so he uses a rotation of different types of soybeans. He has some dicamba-resistant soybean varieties. He didn't use dicamba chemical in 2018 but did use it this year.

He uses pre-emergence herbicides on all of his fields. A few miles away, Palmer amaranth weeds were found in Benson County along some railroad tracks. "I farm along railroad tracks, which makes me nervous," he says, noting he's had a North Dakota State University Extension Service agent come in and help scout for the dreaded weed.

Also bearing on farmers is a frustration with lawsuit promotion about the carcinogenic possibilities of Roundup (glyphosate) chemical, one of their most common tools to fight weeds.

Anderson is skeptical and frustrated with the promotion. He is skeptical when he hears about "somebody who goes to a big box store and buys a jug of Roundup and sprays it, and then says, 'Oh no, now it's killing me,'" he says. He wonders whether other more common household products may have bigger negative health effects. "It's just blown out of proportion," he says, adding, "too much caffeine is worse than Roundup. But you don't hear about that."

Anderson has a relatively small farm and uses used equipment. He sold off the corn header and will buy another if he gets back in that crop. He says the trade uncertainties appear negative for farmers, but he says he sees "lots of new equipment," in the region, indicating some optimism. "Overall, things are OK, but not as good as it used to be," he says.