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Rain, albeit minor, helps one drought-stricken ND county

Matt Nelson has wrapped up spring planting this year, as have most other other Midwest farmers, according to the new updated weekly crop progress from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report. released May 24, reflects conditions on May 23.

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Matt Nelson of Lakota, N.D., said recent rains have helped lessen some, though not all, drought conditions in his area. Nick Nelson / Agweek

Like other experienced farmers, Matt Nelson tries not to get too high when the weather cooperates or too low when it doesn't. But recent rainfall, even a modest six-tenths of an inch, helped drought-ravaged fields and put a little extra enthusiasm into his voice.

"We were really, really dry. So this helps, though we'll need a lot more," said the Lakota, N.D., ag producer, noting that the new moisture will allow some planted crops to geminate, albeit later than desired.

Nelson has wrapped up spring planting this year, as have most other other Midwest farmers, according to the new updated weekly crop progress from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report, released May 24, reflects conditions on May 23.

Most of the remaining unplanted ground is pegged for soybeans, which typically is the last of the region's three major crops (corn and spring wheat are the others) to be planted. Until recently, the cold spring keep soil temperatures too low for some fields to be planted safely to soybeans.

Third year of problems

Difficult weather conditions are nothing new in Nelson County, in northeast central North Dakota. A May 2020 Agweek cover story looked at difficult planting conditions in Nelson County at the time — a problem that followed extraordinarily difficult harvest conditions in 2019, including two separate snowstorms in the fall of 2019.

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Ultimately, Matt Nelson ended up harvesting an OK crop in 2020, in part because the 2020 harvest bought ideal weather. "We really appreciated it after what happened the previous year (during harvest)," Nelson said.

But the paucity of rainfall in the fall of 2020 also helped to set the stage for the current drought in Nelson County and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest, especially after the winter brought very little snowfall.

One sign of how dry it had been the county: A spring wildfire ravaged nearly 1,000 acres, mostly hay land and pasture, in southern Nelson County, farmers there estimate. (Lakota is in northern Nelson County.) Most of the fire-damaged land was along or near the Sheyenne River, which rambles throughout the southern end of the the county.

Nelson, who's raising spring wheat, barley, corn, canola and dry beans this crop season, said the small grains are his biggest concern. Because parts of some fields will have germinated much sooner than others, he essentially will be left with two crops on the same field that will need to be harvested at different times — a major complication.

This year isn't the first year that has happened, but it almost certainly will be a greater obstacle than in recent years where it also popped up, he said.

Land that couldn't be planted because of the weather last year — so-called prevented planting land — generally went into corn this year. Because it wasn't cropped last year, the fields have a little more moisture to draw on this year.

Overall, "We sure would have preferred the (recent) rain to have come at least a week earlier. But we'll take it now," Nelson said.

Here's a crop-by-crop look at crops covered by the recent annual report. Remember, all the numbers are statewide averages and can make substantial different in different parts of a state. And keep in mind that number of recent springs have been cold with late planting, skewing the five-year average.

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Corn

Iowa — 97% is in the ground, down from the five-year average of 98%.

Minnesota — 98% is planted, up from the five-year average of 87%.

North Dakota — 84% is planted, compared with the five-year average of 71%.

South Dakota — 93% is planted, up from the five-year average of 72%.

Sunflowers

Minnesota — 18% was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 12%.

North Dakota — 38% was planted, up from from the five-year average of 28%.

Soybeans

North Dakota — 75% was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 52%.

South Dakota — 82% was planted, up from the five-year average of 11%.

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Iowa — 67% was planted, up from the five-year average of 45%.

Minnesota — 97% was planted, up from the five-year average of 68%.

Spring wheat

Minnesota — 100% was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 97%.

Montana — 87% was planted, on par with the five-year average of 85%.

North Dakota — 93% was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 82%.

South Dakota —99% was planted, up from the five-year average of 98%.

Barley

Montana — 83% was in the ground, compared with the five-year average of 86%.

North Dakota — 93% was planted, up from the five-year average of 81%.

Minnesota — 99% was planted, up from the five-year average of 91%.

South Dakota —91% was planted, up from the five-year average of 72%.

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