Planting progress lags in much of the upper Midwest, but tractors are starting to roll

Farming is on track nationally, but in the upper Midwest, progress has been slow. Iowa farmers are ahead, but planting has been slow in South Dakota and Minnesota and nonexistent in North Dakota.

A John Deere tractor and planter roll through a dry field
At Jorgensen Land and Cattle in Ideal, South Dakota, planters were out in the field on April 13, getting spring wheat into the ground.
Ariana Schumacher / Agweek

IDEAL, S.D. — Even after blizzard conditions hit South Dakota at the beginning of April, some 90 degree days made it possible for producers in the south central part of the state to begin planting during the second week of the month.

At Jorgensen Land and Cattle in Ideal, South Dakota, planters were out in the field on April 12, getting spring wheat into the ground.

"Well, it really just got started for us. It’s been a really tough winter. I mean, you couldn’t believe it I guess, but a week ago it was blizzarding here and now I am planting in dust. So we are very grateful right now for what we can do now that we can do it,” said Kyran Meek, farmer at Jorgensen Land and Cattle.

But, this year, planting is very far behind.

“It’s actually, I would say, about a month late. Normally we like to be seeding this time March, you know, middle of March or so, and actually in last year, in 2022, we started seeding on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. But because of the long winter that we had, we are quite behind,” said Bryan Jorgensen agronomy operations officer at Jorgensen Land and Cattle.


Nationally, planting is getting going right on time.

Corn, as of April 16, according to the Crop Progress Report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, was 8% planted, compared to the five-year average of 5%. Soybeans were 4% planted, compared to an average of 1%. Oats were 36% planted, compared to an average of 35%.

But the picture changes a bit when you switch to crops grown predominately across the northern tier. Spring wheat was only 3% planted, compared to 7% on average. Barley was only 5% planted compared to 14% on average. Sugarbeets were right on their average, at 13%, but all of that progress came in Idaho and Michigan, with the main sugarbeet producing states of Minnesota and North Dakota at a standstill.

South Dakota

Dust rises behind a planter planting spring wheat in South Dakota.
Despite a recent blizzard, dust was rising behind a planter at Jorgensen Land and Cattle on April 13, 2023, near Ideal, South Dakota.
Ariana Schumacher / Agweek

In South Dakota, the week leading up to the April 16 crop progress report had 2.2 days suitable for fieldwork. Farmers put in 1% of their spring wheat, which remains behind 24% last year and the 15% five-year average. They had 4% of their oats planted, up from 1% the week prior and down significantly from 25% last year and the 14% five-year average.

Despite the slower start, conditions are looking good for planting in south central South Dakota.

“So I am hoping we get fast emergence and we beat the heat this summer,” Jorgensen said.

Dry ground in a South Dakota field.
Moisture over the winter was appreciated in South Dakota, which has experienced drought conditions. Photo taken near Ideal, South Dakota, on April 13, 2023.
Ariana Schumacher / Agweek

“It’s been pretty dry actually. I am going into moisture but I am also planting into dust — I mean there’s dust running but the seed is going into some decent moisture,” Meek said.

The goal is to beat the heat when it comes to small grains.


“We really like to have that crop in the ground in March so that we can potentially get it out of the ground in early April. So we are literally two to three weeks behind right now, and that could impact you know 10-15% of the yield potential on harvest,” Jorgensen said.

The snow may have delayed the planting, but producers are thankful to receive some much needed moisture after a year of drought.

"Anytime a farmer sees rain and soils are depleted, it’s a comforting feeling because we have so much risk out there. It really gives us a really comfortable feeling going into a season with some sub moisture. In fact, we have about 3 to 4 feet of sub moisture right now in our system, which is good,” Jorgensen said.

A John Deere tractor in a bare field in South Dakota.
Despite a late start, planting conditions in southern South Dakota were quite good on April 13, 2023. Photo taken near Ideal, South Dakota.
Ariana Schumacher / Agweek

Corn and soybeans won’t be far behind the spring wheat planting this year.

"Actually we will be starting to plant corn and soybeans here in about a week to 10 days, so the soil temperatures have rapidly climbed, because we were 94 degrees here two days ago, so we already have bare soil temperatures in the 60s and 70s already, which would be optimal for seeding corn," Jorgensen said.

After a long wait, they are happy to have the planters running in the field again.

“It’s awesome to finally get out and get some seed in the ground. You know, you never know spring grains in this part of the world, it’s kind of a fine line — if you’re not out by April 1 usually the yield potential drops, so hopefully we can get this grain up and out of the ground and going,” Jorgensen said.

"It’s really nice to be back in the field, in the tractor. Makes me smile,” Meek said.



The Crop Progress Report showed Minnesota had one day suitable for fieldwork in the week ending April 16. A warmup earlier in the week in central and southern Minnesota was interrupted by a weekend snowstorm. The snow was followed by melting, which led to flooding and standing water.

Despite the adverse weather, farmers in Minnesota have planted 3% of their oats, behind the five-year average of 7% but ahead of last year's 1%.

Jared Menze was out spreading cow manure from a nearby dairy farm on Monday, April 17, near Ottertail, Minnesota.

He said the ground was pretty solid though with the frost going out, there were a few spots where he was breaking through the topsoil.

Menze said it was good to see the snow go away and allow some field work to commence, though 2 inches of fresh snow on Sunday was not welcome. A warm up on Monday quickly melted that away. Prior to that, a string of 60-75 degree days took care of most snow on the fields in central Minnesota and as the frost went out, water quickly absorbed into the soil.

Jared Menze takes a break from hauling manure to talk about field conditions on Monday, April 17, near Ottertail, Minnesota.
Michael Johnson / Agweek

Menze, who has been helping with the fieldwork for the last four years, said that while it looked like things were going to be backed up, it now appears that they’ll have a more normal start to planting. He felt that they would begin tillage the week of April 23.

“I don’t think it will be like last year,” Menze said, of the late start in 2022. “It’s on track to be probably average for date wise.”

Dryland oats will be the first to go in the ground followed by corn and beans. He’ll be busy chopping stocks now that the fields are cleared off.


“We didn’t get it all done last year before the snow,” Menze said. “It is what it is.”

Spreading manure has been valuable for their operation as they have plenty of supply from their 72-head dairy, and it cuts the amount of fertilizer they need to buy for some of the nearby crop fields.

A man in a beige baseball cap and button up shirt with University of Minnesota logos.
Tom Hoverstad
Courtesy / University of Minnesota Extension

Tom Hoverstad, scientist at the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, Minnesota, said southern Minnesota is in good shape for a good crop this season. He said dry weather last fall, the wettest winter on record and a saturated spring so far helped the region get to this point.

"A lot of that snowfall fell on ground that hardly had any frost, and it became available soil moisture," said Hoverstad on April 18. "The bank account was low on soil moisture — we had room to put some of this moisture that we've had this spring, so I think we're in good shape."

Hoverstad said as long as the region doesn't get too much rain in the planting season, it should be good until about the first of June when corn starts needing more moisture.

"And hopefully it's all planted by then," he said.

SROC tracks soil temperature and moisture weekly from its fields in Waseca.

Hoverstad said in southern Minnesota, the month of April started "much cooler" than normal


"Near freezing temperatures," said Hoverstad. "But one warm week, and things really went up."

Looking at the SROC's soil temperature and available soil moisture charts , Hoverstad said it's easy to see how much time the area spent above and below normal temperature.

Hoverstad said the average temperature for spring planting — especially for corn — is around 50 degrees.

"Really, we don't see much growth and development below 50 degrees," he said. "And as it works out, our normal soil temperature for late April is about 50 degrees. And that's when we look at starting to plant corn."

But Hoverstad said the ideal temperature for spring planting isn't as important as it used to be, and most farmers are more concerned with conditions than they are about temperature.

"If the conditions are right, and soil temperatures aren't exactly 50 degrees, we'll go ahead and start planting," said Hoverstad. "Most of our modern genetics is quite tolerant to some of those cold temperatures, and we don't have the fear of losing a stand that we used to, say, one generation ago or so."

The one warm week that Hoverstad is referring to came before a large portion of southern Minnesota received a weekend's worth of snow. Hoverstad said that's only a concern if the weather stays cold and wet.

"Those wet, soaking wet conditions where it's cloudy all day and drizzly and the soil never even gets a little bit dry, then I really get concerned about it," said Hoverstad.


Throughout southern Minnesota, planting is already underway. Hoverstad said he witnessed a "significant number of acres" planted on his way to Spring Valley from Waseca on April 15 before the snow came.

"As soon as we get a chance early in the spring, I've planted both corn and soybeans as early as late March in that area and rarely lost a stand," he said.

The situation Hoverstad doesn't want to see is what happened in 2013, when the worst level of prevented planting was seen in over two decades. That year, the soil temperatures went up and down a lot, he said.

"Now if you look at our chart, (soil temperatures) went up, and we almost got to the mid 60s in that really warm week," said Hoverstad. "Now it's back down in the low 40s, and if we do that a number of times, I don't worry so much about the crops in the ground, but that does bother our perennial crops. I always say alfalfa can only go through about three false starts before it really takes a lot of energy out of the crown to where all the energy is stored and can't regrow."

But he said as long as we have decent soil moisture, by the end of the month, the ground will dry out again and be in good planting conditions.

"We got quite a bit of rain with this event, not only rain, but a couple inches of snow, up to maybe six inches of snow in some places, but by the time it gets dry again, I think we should have normal soil temperatures," he said.

Hoverstad said that SROC research shows if corn is planted by the fifth of May, genetic yield potential will be reached. And most farmers don't need more than just over a week to get that done, he said.

"Most farmers seem like they have enough equipment to match their farm size, that they can plant in about 10 days, so if you get started April 25, and you have good conditions, you'll be done by May 5," said Hoverstad.

He said in his career, he's picked up on two reasons that early planted corn makes sense for farmers.

"One is, we're in the northern Corn Belt, and our season is short, so take full advantage of that season — you need to start early, that remains unchanged," said Hoverstad. "The other thing historically about corn yields, is what can be detrimental to corn yields is hot, dry conditions at tasseling time."

He said not long ago, it was kind of the rule that if the region experienced hot, dry conditions in mid to late July or early August, it would see problems with pollination.

"But our rainfall pattern and our humidity pattern just doesn't seem to be that way anymore," said Hoverstad. "So even corn planted May 15 to the 25th doesn't go through that really hot, dry conditions at pollination that can be detrimental to corn yields, it hasn't happened for quite a while and it seems like it's less likely to happen with our current rainfall pattern."

Meanwhile, in northwest Minnesota, planting was still a ways off as of April 17. A string of days with both nighttime and daytime temperatures above freezing melted much of the snow cover in northwest Minnesota. There were a few snow patches still left in fields and shelterbelts, but most of the ground was bare. That was in contrast to the previous week when several inches of snow had covered the fields and there was no black dirt or stubble visible.

Ponds of water were common in fields, but ditches weren’t yet filled. Meanwhile, river levels didn’t rise as much as had earlier been expected.

A man talking with his hands.
Ian MacRae, University of Minnesota Extension entomologist based in Crookston
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“It looks like a lot of that water might be going into the ground, which is a great thing,” said Ian MacRae, University of Minnesota Extension entomologist based in Crookston. While the area wasn’t in a drought last fall, soils were on the dry side and can use the moisture.

“With snowmelt going in, rather than running off, that’s a good thing,” MacRae said.

On the flip side, the moisture will result in muddy fields that are too wet to support planting and tilling equipment for a few weeks, MacRae said.

Ideally, farmers who raise crops near Crookston, Minnesota, would like to be in the field in mid-to late April, he said. However, farmers haven’t been able to start planting during that time period for the past few years because of excessively wet conditions.

With below-normal temperatures in the forecast, McRae hadn't heard any farmers estimating starting dates.

“I think they’re playing it by ear,” he said.

Bare ground is beginning to show on these fields in northwestern Minnesota.
Though much of the snow has melted in northwest Minnesota, some still remains in fields, and snowmelt has filled up some low spots. Photo taken April 17, 2023.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

While the wet field conditions were delaying spring planting, one advantage of the moisture is the potential for it to foster fungal diseases that help control the grasshopper population. Those fungal growth helps take out young grasshoppers.

"Grasshoppers around here have only one generation per year, so if you can cap that by having high mortality of the young, it means you have less problems throughout the rest of the season," he said.


The snowstorm that hit parts of Minnesota the weekend of April 16 also hit northern Iowa, but the state's planting progress stayed far above normal, according to the Crop Progress report. The state had 5.2 days suitable for fieldwork and now stands at 7%, two weeks ahead of last year and six days ahead of the five-year average. More than a third of Iowa's expected oat crop was planted during the week ending April 16, and in all, the oat crop was 51% planted by April 16, 10 days ahead of last year and six days ahead of normal. Four percent of the oat crop had emerged by April 16.

North Dakota

North Dakota, which has experienced record and near-record levels of snow in many places, remained with only half a day suitable for fieldwork for the week ending April 16, the Crop Progress Report said. The heavy snowpack was starting to melt , and 21% of topsoils were rated as having surplus moisture. On average, farmers intend to begin fieldwork on May 8, according to the report. That date scooted back four days from the prior week's report, which had estimated work would begin May 4.

Soil temperatures in North Dakota remained largely in the 30s as of April 18, though some parts of western North Dakota were creeping into the low 40s, according to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network .

Ariana is a reporter for Agweek based out of South Dakota. She graduated from South Dakota State University in 2022 with a double major in Agricultural Communications and Journalism, with a minor in Animal Science. She is currently a graduate student at SDSU, working towards her Masters of Mass Communications degree. She enjoys reporting on all things agriculture and sharing the stories that matter to both the producers and the consumers.

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