CARRINGTON, N.D. - Through the morning of Oct. 3, Erickson Implement in Carrington had sold nine sets of after-market tracks for combines. By that afternoon, they'd sold another two sets.
"We're selling whatever kind of track attachments we can get," said service manager David Nelson. "Some of the places are running short on them already. I don't know that the rest of the world was ready for this."
In a normal year, the dealership would sell no after-market tracks, though they might sell them factory-installed on one in 10 combines, Nelson said. He has been in the tractor business for 46 years, 35 of them at Erickson Implement. He's seen other wet years where implement dealers have sold a lot of tracks -1994 and 2011 come to mind.
But this year's late harvest and late wet conditions are unusual and are leading to farmers in the region making plans to try to salvage whatever they can of their crops. For some, that means buying tracks for their combines.
According to National Weather Service reports, areas around Highway 200 in central North Dakota got hit hard in a Sept. 20-21 storm, just one of several storms to dampen the outlook for harvest. Hurdsfield had 5 inches of rain. Fessenden had 5.5. Sykeston had 6 inches, as did Cathay, about 20 miles northwest of Carrington.
That's where Dusty Kost farms. He raises small grains, edible beans, soybeans and corn. Earlier in the season, he had invested in a set of bigger tires for his combine to get through the mud from all that rain. Oct. 2 brought the season's first snow, most of which melted by the next day. With all the recent moisture, Kost worried the bigger tires weren't enough.
"Unfortunately, we've got a bunch of corn ahead of us, and you don't have quite the visibility of the ground conditions in the corn as you do in the beans, so we've decided to jump into a set of tracks on one of the machines that does the corn combining," he said. "We're hoping that that helps us get at least what we can off."
Making an investment
Kost was about halfway through harvesting edible beans when the September rains set in. Before the storms, the quality of the beans had been good, but things deteriorated with each round of rain. By the end of harvest, Kost was "looking at No. 2 or beyond" in quality.
The soybeans weren't quite as far along when the rains started, so Kost thinks they may have retained their quality. The struggle, he explained, will be if the beans swell and the pods dry and crack open.
He had been using the bigger tires - LSW1400s - to combine the edible beans. The new tracks he loaded up on Oct. 3 are going on one of the combines in time for soybean harvest.
"We're going to put them on right away," Kost said.
A set of tracks is a significant investment. The ones at Erickson Implement have been running about $65,000. Kost believes they'll pay for themselves this year on the 1,500 acres of corn he has to harvest.
"We factored in that if we don't do something different than just the tires, we're going to be having to turn around at all the ditches and different places like that. And we'll probably end up leaving potentially 40% of the corn crop out there, whereas the tracks will hopefully allow us to get through those areas and get across to the next side," he said. "We'll hopefully at the end of the day have enough of a return to pay for the investment of the tracks to get the crop off."
Getting the crop off in the fall also means not having to harvest in the spring when it should be planting time, he added.
Another popular addition being sold this fall is power rear wheel drive for combines, Nelson said. However, those also are in short supply, and Nelson has heard of some places that can get in the attachment but can't get bolts and hoses to hook it on. Lighter combine headers also are popular, and Nelson said most farmers are set up pretty well on tracked tractors and grain carts.
Corn harvest may not come for weeks. Kost estimates he'll start around the beginning of November. As of Oct. 3, his corn was all dented and about 60% black layered.
The wait for crops to mature is part of what is convincing people to buy tracks, Nelson said.
"The big fear is getting a whole bunch of snow on top of the wet ground. Then you're going to have mud all winter long under the snow," he said. "We don't foresee this being an easy fall or winter."
Kost had bought a pair of tracks years back but ended up getting rid of them. But he's going to keep this set around.
"It seems like this is getting to be more of a norm now, so we plan on holding onto these ones," he said. "Just keep them in the corner when you don't need them and you'll have them when you do."
Concerns for after harvest
While getting the crops out of the field is the most immediate struggle, farmers are gearing up to take care of the beans and corn once they're out of the hopper, too.
Kost said "a fair amount" of soybeans will need to be dried and maybe some edible beans, though he said drying edibles takes a careful process.
"That's not very good or fun," he said.
Kost believes 100% of the corn crop will need to be dried. He has enough bin space and dryer capacity for his crop. But that's not the case for all farmers.
Rodie Jelleberg, customer service manager at Superior Grain Equipment, said a late, wet harvest season on the heels of another late, wet harvest season has led to a run on grain dryers.
"We've sold more dryers this year than we have in any other previous year, and a lot of that has to do with the season last year. We had a late season last year," he said.
Jelleberg said many farmers, after last year's late harvest, said they "can't go through another season like this," and made plans to buy dryers. He anticipates more purchases of dryers and grain storage as harvest stretches on.
Kost said he's also planning ahead in case the propane market "gets wild" with the need for drying.
"We've pre-bought and booked some more propane," he said.
He pointed out that it's not just central North Dakota dealing with wet conditions.
"The struggle is not only for our area, but this stretches up into Canada all the way down to the southern states. This is kind of a nationwide struggle this year and usually it's not that. It's affecting every single market there is, all the way from freight companies trucking grain, can't get into farmers yards," Kost said. "The whole industry is affected."