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Like planting, aerial spraying has been thrown off schedule

Rain, wind, changing regulations and the lure of high commodity prices all have an effect on aerial applicators during the 2022 growing season.

Yellow plane flying low off airstrip.
Matt Hovdenes flew his spray plane from Casselton, North Dakota, to Moorhead, Minnesota, on Monday, June 6, 2022, to visit with Agweek.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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Erratic weather, inflationary prices and changing regulations have altered the calendar for crop spraying in 2022.

“We have a lot of different versions of wet,” said Matt Hovdenes, owner of Right Way Ag, who flies out of the Casselton, North Dakota, airport west of Fargo.

Pilot in front of plane
Matt Hovdenes operates Right Way Ag, an aerial application service, out of Casselton, North Dakota.
Evan Girtz / Agweek

His own home base area in the Red River Valley, crops went in late but are sitting in pretty good shape, but to the north and west “there are areas where nothing has happened,” Hovdenes said on Monday, June 6.

In south-central Minnesota, John Thisius farms and runs Thisius Flying Service. Planting was late there, too, but emergence, for the most part, has been good.

But windy weather has hindered some applications and even damaged some soybean fields, forcing a few farmers to replant.

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“Some planting was still going on yesterday,” Thisius, who farms at Wells, Minnesota, near Albert Lea, said Tuesday, June 7.

Thisius said strong winds have meant blowing dirt has damaged some soybeans, and some farmers have gone back into plant a second time right over the top of the first planting.

Farmers with late-planted soybeans are up against a June 12 cutoff date to use dicamba, under spraying regulations updated this year in Minnesota.

In Minnesota, there can be no dicamba applications made south of Interstate 94 after June 12. For those north of I-94, there’s no dicamba spraying after June 30.

“It’s going to be difficult to get that dicamba put on,” Thisius said, noting that 20 miles to the south, farmers in Iowa have until June 20 to use dicamba.

New regulations also mean chlorpyrifos is no longer available. 

Gary Jerger is just north of I-94 near Moorhead, Minnesota. He said farmers there are sitting pretty well but you don’t have to go far to the southeast to find farmers more heavily impacted by wet fields and a couple rounds of severe storms in May.

Even so, “I’m at least a month behind,” said Jerger, who runs Ag Spray, Inc. and is in his 48th year as an aerial applicator.

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Man inspecting plane propeller and engine
Gary Jerger's plane was still in its hangar on June 6, 2022, east of Moorhead, Minnesota. Jerger said he was a month behind schedule.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

Across the Red River in North Dakota, Hovdenes has been busier, putting out some cover crop to protect sugarbeets from the wind and some preemergence herbicides.

Randy Melvin, near Buffalo, North Dakota, has used Right Way Ag this spring to apply fertilizer and herbicide to some rye that he grows for his own cover crop seed.

“There was no way we were getting a ground rig in that ground,” Melvin said as he was planting navy beans on Tuesday, June 7.

Progress is very scattered in North Dakota.

Pilot climbing into a yellow plane
Matt Hovdenes climbs into his plane on Monday, June 6, near Moorhead, Minnesota. Hovdenes runs an aerial application service called Right Way Ag in Casselton, North Dakota.
Evan Girtz / Agweek

“We have wheat that went in fairly early and we have wheat that just went in the ground two days ago,” Hovdenes said Monday, June 6. “So a lot of the applications are going to be spread out, mismatched this year. It won’t be all at once like it has been in the past.”

He said farmers are pretty determined to get a crop in where that’s possible to take advantage of high commodity prices. But he expects some prevented planting acres that may still need weed control.

“I would rather spray fungicide on a customer’s growing crop that they’re going to make revenue off of than go out and keep weeds out of a prevented plant field,” Hovdenes said.

Thisius said some farmers who may be on the fence about whether or not to use a fungicide on corn are pulling the trigger this year to make sure they maximize yields to take advantage of the high prices.

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But like fertilizer, chemical herbicides and pesticides have shot up in price.

Hovdenes said prices for some products have more than doubled and others can’t be found because of supply chain issues.

“Some guys are changing some of their agronomic practices because of the pricing,” Hovdenes said.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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