LEEDS, N.D. — Jason Hanson, owner of Rock and Roll Agronomy LLC, lists an almost biblical crop challenge in 2021
“We’ve been too windy, too cold, too hot, too dry.” And he pauses:
“We have not been too wet,” he said.
His Rock and Roll Agronomy has eight farmer clients in the Devils Lake, Webster, and Garske areas. The company contracts with ag retailers who are sprinkled throughout the state, including CenDak Cooperative at Leeds. He works with companies based in Minot, Crary and Maddock.
An untimely May 27 freeze hit much of Hanson's clientele. It was 24 degrees in the Langdon and Wales area, near the Canadian border. A wide swathee had 27- and 28-degree temperatures.
Effects are out spotty because of uneven emergence, caused by cool and dry conditions.
‘Like in the desert’
On June 2, 2021, Hanson was looking at soybeans and canola with clients. With ambient temperatures at 82 degrees at noon that day, he and a colleague checked soil temperatures.
“An inch down it was 110 degrees, on black soil,” he said.
Row crops in 20- and 30-inch rows and underdeveloped in hot weather will not create the “canopy” effect that could protect the soil from the sun.
“We don’t have a lot of canopy on this crop so a lot of the sun will hit black earth. It’s going to get very hot," he said. "That’s the trouble with hot days, and cool nights, and you’re like in the desert."
Canola was nipped in the Langdon, N.D., area, but there also was damage Cooperstown, Finley and Sharon.
“We had a lot of crop that was direct-seeded (into residue)this year because we are so dry. The darker the soils (because of tillage) the better it handled the frost," he said. "The more residue, the more (freezing damage) issues.”
In the Leeds and Maddock area, clients were considering whether to replant.
“If we had moisture it would have been an easy decision, but we don’t,” he said. “And then we’ve got three days (temperature predicted) in the 90-plus degrees. Anytime you put any equipment in the field it dries it out even more. So it’s just a very (pause) … emotional decision.”
Cost is a factor.
Farmers, colleagues, everyone is “really nervous,” he said, because of the amount of expense that’s out there now. With soybeans and canola there are varying replant policies in place with seed companies. There seem to be adequate seed supplies in place. The cost is roughly $15 an acre for soybeans.
“Now, it’s how much do you reseed, if it’s a partial reseed,” he said. “If it’s a total (reseed) it’s easier to decide. But since it’s so dry, there’s probably enough (moisture) to get it going, but is there enough to sustain it?”
Farmers will have no trouble getting the same seed they’d initially planted, maybe more difficulty if they go to shorter-season varieties.
It’s doubly frustrating when elevated commodity prices are telling farmers that there is demand in the market.
“That’s the biggest concern,” he said. “We’re going to have a very high price and not much crop to bank on it this fall.”
The ‘what if’ game
Farmers have done all they can to counter the dry conditions.
Much wheat and corn was planted 2 inches or more. Canola was down 1.25.
“I’ve had people ask, can I seed beans 3 inches down because that’s where the moisture is,” he said. “Well, you can as long as you don’t get pounding rains.
"As the soil also dried out, it became very hard. People had to put a lot of ‘down’ force down to get things down to where you want to be.”
Fields in prevented planting last year or in edible beans produced better stands, but those are going backward.
Hanson said wheat stands in the stubble of 2020 soybean production are in the worst condition he’s seen in 15 years in the business.
“I have wheat that is in five-leaf (development); I have wheat that is just a ‘spear’ coming out of the ground, and some that isn’t germinated yet, or is just starting (to germinate). Do you spray that out (kill it) and seed beans? Well, it’s so dry, you don’t know if the beans will even germinate? Do you take that risk?”
Most people “won’t seed into powder again,” Hanson said. Forecasts of rain that were 80% probability have missed.
If there had been some rain, he would have expected more wheat to be taken out of production, replaced with corn.
“That’s tricky, too on crop insurance,” he said. “Because it stayed dry, I heard a lot of talk (about replanting) but didn’t see a lot people doing it.”
With uneven crops, deciding when and what to spray is difficult. Crop protection products must be used in narrow “windows” matching crop development.
It’s a small consolation, but “it’s so dry hardly any weeds are germinating,” Hanson said. A .4 inch rain made some weeds germinate, and they’re small.
Meteorologists are predicting some rain in mid-June, but Hanson thinks it won’t be soon enough.
“These next five days are going to be tough,” he said, on June 2, 2021.
And those days were tough, with strong winds coupled with temperatures that reached into the upper 90s and even topped 100 in some places.
Farmers also must deal with the fact that weeds become harder to control in a drought.
In low moisture, a plant’s cuticles — stomata — open up in the evening to bring in moisture from the air. When there is no moisture, the plant makes the cuticle close up, effectively conserving moisture by avoiding evapotranspiration.
“On a day like today (June 2, 2021) when we hit 88 degrees, that plant’s just shutting down. Well, a weed’s going to do the same thing. It’s going to get tough to control and the crop doesn’t want to take in product that you spray on it, and metabolize it out. It’ll show up as burn or stunting,” Hanson explained.
‘No dew’ effect
It is so dry that when Hanson drove a four-wheeler through a field at 7:30 a.m. the wheels weren't picking up dew.
“There’s no humidity in the air,” he said. “The plants aren’t even picking up moisture in the morning. You walk out in the grass and your boots don’t even get wet. That plant’s cuticle is already getting thick, cuz it’s trying to conserve as much moisture as it can.”
Looking ahead, harvest will be tough because there are “three crops out there in the same field,” based on the uneven emergence and development.
Marketing properly is another guess. Some of Hanson’s farmers have contract-sold part of their crop.
“If they have grain in the bin they’re not going to let it go, because they don’t know if they’re going to have much this year to take off the combine as new crop. Everybody’s sitting kind of tight. That’s OK if you’re a grain person, but the people who are in worse shape are anybody that’s running cattle right now.”
Up to now, most replant decisions so far have been based on freeze damage. Frost-damaged barley in road ditches and low areas will turn white on leaf tips. Ditto with wheat, and corn. If the growing point was protected, it will still make it. Canola, soybeans, the growing point is above the surface. The freeze will “fry the plant brown” — the stems, the cotyledons, the terminal buds.
Drought stress is different. The plants look tired, and “droopy.”
Rains have come in “pop-up” and “spotty” storms, not the large “systems” that could bring more. A .35 rain that falls will be “pretty much gone in one day. I have been amazed at how much rain you can get and how little effect it can have because the profile is so dry.
“We have enough rain to germinate, but not enough to ‘sustain’ it,” he said. “That’s the biggest issue we have now.”
Other parts of the state were dry in 2017, but for this part of the state it hasn’t been so dry since 1988 or 1989.
“It’s been very unusual because it’s been dry and cool,” Hanson said. “We haven’t been able to get moisture, and now we’re headed into a hot streak.”