Farmers pushing to finish planting

On the beaches and shores on ancient Lake Agassiz, farmers are fighting against time. "It's getting late," Nancy Overland, a customer service agent with Ihry Insurance Agency in Hope, N.D., says of spring planting. "The question is, how late do w...

Nancy Overland
Nancy Overland is a customer services agent with Ihry Insurance in Hope, N.D. Photo by John Brose, special to Agweek.

On the beaches and shores on ancient Lake Agassiz, farmers are fighting against time.

"It's getting late," Nancy Overland, a customer service agent with Ihry Insurance Agency in Hope, N.D., says of spring planting.

"The question is, how late do we go?" she asks.

The slow planting pace this spring was obvious on a recent Agweek swing through North Dakota's Traill and Steele counties, much of which are on the edge of Lake Agassiz. The huge, ice-dammed lake was formed about 11,500 years ago by glacial meltwater at the end of the last glacial period. After draining about 9,500 years ago, it left behind the fertile Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.

Land on the edges of Lake Agassiz generally is good, but usually isn't as heavy or rich as land in the heart of it.


Normally, planting in Traill and Steele counties is on the home stretch by late May. But week after week of cool, wet weather prevented farmers from getting into their fields, raising concern about when and even if some fields will get planted.

The weather had finally turned on the day of Agweek's trip. Sun and temperatures reaching 70 degrees allowed farmers and farm company employees into fields; planting rigs and fertilizer applicators were a common sight.

Corn was the biggest immediate concern. May 25 was the deadline, in much of the area visited by Agweek, to plant corn and still receive full federal crop insurance coverage.

The deadlines are later for wheat and soybeans, the region's two other major crops.

Though planting in the area visited by Agweek is behind schedule, farmers and others there say things could be worse. They offer anecdotal reports that farmers to their east, who farm heavy soil in the heart of ancient Lake Agassiz, have struggled even more with wet fields this spring.

One thing to keep in mind is that big, modern farm equipment allows fields to be planted rapidly when the weather cooperates. So farmers across the region could make major progress if rain stays away.

Forecasts for the last week of May indicate the mercury will cooperate, with temperatures soaring into the high 70s and low 80s. But forecasts also predict of rain on several days.

Here's a closer look at what Agweek found in Traill and Steele counties.


A good day for farming

GALESBURG, N.D. -- Chad Satrom is planting the last of his wheat crop on this warm, sunny afternoon.

"We're not as far along (with planting) as we'd like," says the veteran Galesburg, N.D., far-mer. "So today really helps."

He raises a number of crops, including corn, dry beans barley and soybeans.

He hoped to finish planting his corn by May 25. If so, the late-planted fields would still qualify for full federal crop insurance coverage.

"We'll do what we can to finish," he says.

Like other farmers, however, he stresses that nature, not producers, will have the final word.

Important work


HOPE, N.D. -- In a late, wet spring like this one, Nancy Overland and people like her might have the most important job in Upper Midwest agriculture.

Overland helps clients of Hope-based Ihry Insurance understand the crop insurance program.

The program is administered by the federal government. Private companies sell and service crop insurance policies.

But the policies often have potentially troublesome provisions.

One example: The use of enterprise units is increasingly common. Such units, which combine all insurable acres of the insured crop, generally carry lower premiums than other types of coverage.

But as the Ihry Insurance newsletter notes, qualifying for enterprise units requires a farmer to plant 20 acres of 20 percent of the unit's acres in two or more sections. If all the acres of insured crops go into prevented planting, the enterprise unit discount doesn't apply.

Prevented planting provides coverage when farmers aren't able to plant a field.

Now, with planting delayed and crop insurance deadlines nearing or already passed, many farmers must decide whether to take prevented-planting coverage or to press on with planting.

Either course of action could have ramifications that farmers, working with their crop insurance agent, need to understand in advance.

"So be sure to stay in touch with us," Overland says to farmers.

Long hours in planting

CLIFFORD, N.D. -- It's a busy spring for Gordy Ellerson.

"I've been putting in a lot of hours lately," says Ellerson, a fertilizer applicator for The Arthur (N.D.) Cos.

On this warm, sunny morning, he's waiting as his applicator, sitting on a field that company employees think will be planted to corn, is filled.

Corn has become more common in the area recently. But lower corn prices and planting delays might cause farmers to plant less corn and more soybeans this spring.

Ellerson, who's spent 14 years with the company, has seen late springs and early springs. So he's taking the long hours this spring in stride.

"It's just part of the job right now," he says.

Chad Satrom
Chad Satrom, a Galesburg, N.D., works with his equipment. He was planting the last of this year's wheat. Photo by John Brose, special to Agweek.

Related Topics: CROPS
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