WIMBLEDON, N.D. - The great blizzard of October 2019 has a stunning, perhaps long-lasting effect in central North Dakota.
At a time when the state's farmers already have been suffering economic hardship due to the impacts of trade policies that have damaged prices for soybeans and other crops that must be exported, now comes an unprecedented September of rain, followed by a blizzard across the middle of the state.
Farmers have counted on strong yields in the past several years to help counter weak commodity prices. That prospect was rained out and now has been snowed out.
As of Oct. 7, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported the percentages of crops unharvested: corn, nearly 100%, with only 22% mature; soybeans, 92%; spring wheat, 10%; durum wheat, 21%; canola 31%; flaxseed, 37%; sugar beets, 81%; potatoes, 55%.
Mike Clemens, a Wimbledon, N.D., farmer who has put his leadership skills to work for a number of state commodity organizations through the years, said he and his family had lower, wetter ground to work with, so realized an attempt was futile.
Farmers with hilltops to try to harvest sent smartphone photos of their struggles this week, even prior to the blizzard. It was a beautiful day on Tuesday, Oct. 8, but they would have needed three weeks of drying warm weather to improve conditions.
Clemens on Saturday was waiting or a payloader to push a tree branch away from his driveway. A four-foot drift stood in front of the shed with the pickup. Farmers through the east-central part of the state were socked with 20 to 30 inches of snow accumulation on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"I can't blow it," he said. "Too much for my Massey Ferguson-11 loader. Snow is wet and heavy."
Roads were coated with slush. "My guess is the soybeans are full of snow, 12 inches deep." Ditto for the corn with snow banks on the west and north sides. "Fields were impassable before this with mud. We'll have overland water when the snow melts."
Clemens thinks there will be no hope for any harvest for several weeks. His plan for corn is to wait until February or March to try to get the corn until the frost goes out."
Some will probably wait until May.
"Would you drive your combine on a lake with 2-3 inches of ice?" Clemens says. "Fields will be no different.
It is likely the crops will sustain irreparable quality damage.
It isn't entirely clear how crop insurance companies will handle the damage. Moisture content itself is not an insured loss. Only yield loss due to kernel damage or failure.
Crop insurance can zero-out cereal crops - wheat, durum, barley - after Oct. 31. Corn and soybeans policies can be zeroed out after Dec. 10.
How smoothly that happens remains to be seen. Clemens recalled struggles farmers had with insurance companies in 2003 when an early frost hit the region's corn crop.
Once zeroed out, the farmer is responsible for destroying what is in the field and not scavenging for anything that has been indemnified. Clemens didn't plant dry edible beans this year, but thinks they'll have to deal with quality issues - mud smears, and darkening colors. "They may sprout, ruining the sample and they will possibly be too wet to deliver."