Regional farmers dealing with late planting, wet fields

FARGO, N.D. -- Wet. This is the word that will summarize the 2011 planting season, and farmers are feeling the effects of it differently in different parts of Agweek country. Here are a few Agweek talked to in a recent trip through eastern North ...

Wet planting season
Jerome Halvorson farms near Wyndmere, N.D., says he was able to plant only 97.5 out of his planned 1,100 acres of corn this year and will have to return pallets of seed to the company that sold it to him. (Mikkel Pates/Agweek)

FARGO, N.D. -- Wet.

This is the word that will summarize the 2011 planting season, and farmers are feeling the effects of it differently in different parts of Agweek country. Here are a few Agweek talked to in a recent trip through eastern North Dakota and northeast South Dakota, followed by a National Agricultural Statistics Service summary of planting progress at a critical point in the season.

Sending back seed

WYNDMERE, N.D. -- Jerome Halvorson lives and farms 8 miles north of Wyndmere, N.D., on North Dakota Highway 18. He runs 70 Limousin commercial cows and typically raises about 1,800 acres including 1,100 acres of crops: corn, soybean and sunflowers.

It's a sandy loam soil area with a high water table, so things are more pleasant in drier years.


Last year, the Halvorson farm was all in corn. This year, it was going to be corn again.

But it didn't happen.

"This is the wettest I've seen," Halvorson says, although 1962 was bad, too, and he didn't ever want see that again. That year, the Halvorsons got the small grains in, but it was too wet for the corn.

"I planted five acres of corn and it didn't get a cob on it," he recalls.

But this is worse, he says.

"I've raised corn all my life," Halvorson says.

This year, he'd expected to plant 1,100 acres of it and only got 97½ acres planted.

"The rest won't get planted," he says, standing next to pallets of Wensman corn seed in his shed.


All of it got returned to the company.

"It's been so wet here, the ground doesn't work up," Halvorson says.

North Dakota Highway 18 runs past his house, and there are miles of unplanted land.

"This late planting doesn't accomplish anything because it's going to be slow developing. If you plant late and you get an early frost, the corn is miserable to work with -- high moisture, low test weight. You have all of the input expenses -- fuel, fertilizer. It's too expensive to put it in late," he says.

Halvorson also has a quarter-section of land where he usually puts up prairie hay. It's in a section of native prairie that's never been broken. Normally, he starts haying it July 4. Last year, it was so wet he didn't get started until the end of July. He got 30 acres cut and it started to rain. The swathes were floating in the water the rest of the year.

"For the past three or four years, it seems like it's been getting wetter and wetter," Halvorson says. "I've been planting more corn because it takes the water up. I'd been raising some soybeans, but you get into iron chlorosis problems with it, so you're planting a 'defensive bean' if you're going to get a yield at all."

With high crop prices, it's not easy to accept conditions. He recently drove to Fergus Falls, Minn., and the crops were beautiful, he says

"It's tough to come back home and see what we've got here," he says


Halvorson has plans to take his mind off of the farm. A daughter who lives in the Anchorage, Alaska, area, and recently built a new home.

"I'm going up there to do some fishing and watch some bears and do some flying with the bush pilots," Halvorson says..

Feeling a bit behind

MANTADOR, N.D. -- Todd

Althoff lives a mile and half east of Mantador, N.D., and raises about 850 acres of corn and 750 acres of soybeans with the help of his son, Alex.

This has been a pretty good year so far. His corn was planted May 25 and his soybeans were in by June 10 -- roughly the same as last year.

"We've actually been very fortunate around here," Althoff says. "We've gotten rain, but not like the last couple of years."

He knows some people have had a tougher go. He remembers 2009, when his farm got four 4-inch rains in the month of August.

Althoff is working on a kind of strip-till program, so less tillage makes his fields a little slower to dry out, so he feels behind some of his neighbors. He says the growing degree day accumulations for his community show that the crops are behind, but he thinks it's not so bad.

As far as crop pests, Althoff says his main concern is weeds, and his biggest weed foe is dandelions.

"Last year, we lost some soybean yield on dandelions," he says. "These aren't like the dandelions in your lawn. These things are just bigger."

As he approached the weekend of June 25, he was hoping his farm could get by with fewer than 2

inches of rain. That would make it a bit nicer for the Mantador 125th anniversary celebration, too. Althoff says he doesn't lead anything there, but just shows up to help.

Nice: Hold the rain

NEW EFFINGTON, S.D. -- John Fritz says he's "trying to retire," but he seems to be enjoying this phase of his agricultural career, raising corn and soybeans with his son, Dan Fritz. Another son, Joe, lives nearby and has been growing a Pioneer seed business.

The Fritzes aren't large farmers -- 1,200 acres total. They farm on rolling land, which comes in handy in a wet season. One of the quarters they farm is land that Fritz's grandfather homesteaded in 1893.

"We got the crop pretty much all in, and all on time," John says. "Actually, it really looks beautiful." The corn has been sprayed with glyphosate once.

No other cropping concerns, except too much moisture. Two inches of rain fell June 21, which was two more than they needed.

John and his wife, Judi, still are trying to be "family farmers" where we're at.

"Our tradition has been that," he says.

They enjoy their neighborhood. Among other things, they've planted a little stand of trees along the road at Exit 242 of Interstate 29, where they hang Christmas lights. In the summer, they keep a U.S. flag there, and folks in the neighborhood often use it as a backdrop for significant events in their lives: birthdays and other gatherings.

Organically fine

MILBANK, S.D. -- Dennis Fonder was cutting a beautiful field of alfalfa the evening of June 17. He and four sons -- Richard, Bill, John and Matt -- farm together. "We work together where we need help for the bigger thing, harvesting and silage cutting. Each one of the boys have their own farms and each dairies separately, and they're all organic."

The Fonders have been organic farmers for four years and sell their milk to Organic Valley, in total milking about 160 cows. Dennis himself is in the beef industry, with about Angus 60 cows.

"I used to dairy. Valley Queen told the sons they needed more cows to be able to pick up the milk, which contributed to the decision to go organic. "We have no regrets, it was a good decision we made," Fonder says.

Besides their alfalfa, the Fonders raise oats, peas and barley, all of which goes into forage for the cattle, and corn for silage.

"The crops look good, but we just got 2.5 inches of rain," Fonder says.

The organic thing works well because of the rotation to reduce pest pressure, he says.

"Alfalfa will really do a lot as far as controlling Canada thistle. We run the alfalfa about three years and then move it to a different field," he says.

Pushing to plant

ESTELLINE, S.D. -- Lenny Saathoff works in the crop insurance business as a field man for Farmers Mutual Hail and does some farming on the side. He has 150 acres of corn and 200 acres of soybeans this year. He's a big believer of planting trees for wildlife, planting 15 acres of trees in the last 15 years.

"It's wet in this area, a struggle the last 30 to 40 days to get the crop in," he says.

It's all emerged, but it's behind compared with last year. It's been a struggle to get it sprayed because of wet weather.

Saathoff says he's traveled around the region for the crop insurance work. In Aberdeen, S.D., farmers still were trying to plant crops the week ending June 18.

"The wet ground we're starting to get planted," Saathoff says. "You could see spots that were left before are seeded now. I think the corn is a little behind, but if we get hot weather it's going to take off. The beans are struggling. It was wet. Crusting. We've had a lot of replanting."

Some of the land under the three-year rule will be eligible for prevented planting crop insurance this year because of a one-year extension through 2012. Some of this land that was in prevented planting for several years may need to be considered for Wetland Reserve Program or some other plan, he thinks. High commodity price expectations are playing a role in how aggressive farmers are this year.

"I think guys are trying extra hard to get a crop planted this year," Saathoff says.

Tiled land good

NUNDA, S.D. -- Scott Stratton of Rutland, S.D., farms in the area with the help of his father, Sheldon, and a son, Evan, 19. June 18, he was spraying a field with glyphosate, hitting about right, he says.

Excessive rain has been a factor in getting this year's crop in.

"There's places it went in pretty decent, and others it was a struggle, depending on how well-drained it is. We had land tiled that was pretty good. We had some land that wasn't tiled and it was a struggle," he says.

Stratton started planting corn on May 3 and had most of it finished by May 16. He filled in some of the spots a couple of weeks later.

"I consider it late," he says. "I suppose last year we were done May 1," he says.

Soybeans started going in May 17.

"That went pretty good for a couple of days and then we started getting some rain. We finished planting about June 7."

He didn't really replant anything, but as he's spraying he been seeing a few skips in corn where there was some drown-outs. He filled in a couple of spots on the soybeans that couldn't be planted earlier.

"For what they've been through, I think they're looking all right," he says of the soybeans. "We need to get some summer heat going and need some time this fall to get it all done." He got another 2 inches of rain June 21, and so it's "really pretty wet again."

It can stop anytime.

Regional summary

Here is the National Agricultural Statistics Service's June 20 weekly crop-weather summary for North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. Averages are for the five year period of 2006 to 2010:

NORTH DAKOTA: Only 44 percent of the intended durum acreage in the state has been planted, and not much was added in the previous week, according to the weekly report. Crops with the biggest percentages in the fair or worse condition categories were potatoes, 61 percent; dry peas, 40 percent; and sunflowers, 34 percent.

Topsoil moisture in the state is ranked surplus in 48 percent of the state, up from 46 percent the previous week and compared with a 13 percent average for the date. Towns that are more than 4 inches ahead of moisture averages since April 1: Bowbells, Williston, Minot, Watford City, Beach and Bowman. Williston has received 6.42 inches more than the five-year average during the period.

Crop-by-crop breakdown:

- Barley: 77 percent planted, 74 percent previous week; 67 percent emerged, 99 percent average; 11 percent jointed, 59 percent average for the date. Condition: 66 percent good, 10 percent excellent.

- Durum: 44 percent planted, 39 percent previous week; 35 percent emerged, 98 percent average; 3 percent jointed, 35 percent average. Condition: 59 percent good, 4 percent excellent.

- Spring wheat: 86 percent planted, 82 percent previous week; 78 percent emerged; 15 percent jointed, 60 percent average. Condition: 60 percent good, 14 percent excellent.

- Oats: 88 percent planted, 100 percent average; 73 percent emerged, 100 percent average; 17 percent jointed, 64 percent average. Condition: 64 percent good, 11 percent excellent.

- Canola: 76 percent planted, 72 percent previous week; 66 percent emerged, 97 percent average; 11 percent rosette stage, 54 percent average. Condition: 58 percent good, 13 percent excellent.

- Corn: 91 percent emerged. Condition: 61 percent good, 16 percent excellent.

- Dry beans: 94 percent planted, 75 percent previous week, 98 percent average; 68 percent emerged, 84 percent average. Condition: 60 percent good, 14 percent excellent.

- Dry edible peas: 61 percent planted, 49 percent previous week; 51 percent emerged, 100 percent average. Condition: 57 percent good, 3 percent excellent.

- Flaxseed: 64 percent planted, 57 percent previous week; 51 percent emerged, 93 percent average. Condition: 55 percent good, 4 percent excellent.

- Potatoes: 95 percent planted, 82 percent previous week; 54 percent emerged, 83 percent average. Condition: 38 percent good, 3 percent excellent.

- Soybeans: 95 percent planted, 82 percent previous week; 64 percent emerged, 91 percent average. Condition: 68 percent good, 14 percent excellent.

- Sugar beets: 92 percent emerged, 99 percent average. Condition: 67 percent good, 7 percent excellent.

- Sunflowers: 78 percent planted, 64 percent previous week; 40 percent emerged, 73 percent average. Condition: 60 percent good, 6 percent excellent.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Topsoil moisture in the surplus category was ranked 27 percent on the week, down from 30 percent the previous week and far drier than the 46 percent surplus rating a year ago. Subsoil moisture is 33 percent surplus compared with a 43 percent ranking last year at this time.

Towns with more than 2 inches of rain ahead of normal since April 1: Buffalo, Dupree, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Mission and Centerville. Dupree is farthest ahead with 2.78 inches. Regions with the largest growing degree deficits are the northwest, more than 200 GDDs behind normal; north-central and northeast, although everyone is behind.

Conditions of crops:

- Winter wheat: 68 percent headed, 88 percent average; none turning color, 20 percent average. Condition: 85 percent good to excellent.

- Barley: 7 percent boot, 71 percent average; 2 percent headed, 28 percent average. Condition: 83 percent good to excellent.

- Oats: 34 percent boot, 77 percent average; 14 percent headed, 36 percent average. Condition: 86 percent good to excellent.

- Spring wheat, 33 percent boot, 78 percent average; 6 percent headed, 37 percent average. Condition: 78 percent good to excellent.

- Corn: 96 percent emerged; 8 inches average height, 13 inch average; 59 percent first cultivation or spraying, 74 percent average; 7 percent second cultivation or spraying, 16 percent average. Condition: 75 percent good to excellent.

- Soybeans: 93 percent planted, 83 percent previous week; 67 percent emerged, 84 percent average. Condition: 64 percent good to excellent.

- Sunflowers: 73 percent planted, 50 percent previous week, 74 percent average. Condition: 68 percent good to excellent. Condition: 68 percent good to excellent.

- Alfalfa: 44 percent first cutting, 30 percent previous week, 54 percent average. Condition: 80 percent good to excellent.

MINNESOTA: Below-average temperatures and persistent rains are keeping the crop progress behind schedule. Some 26 percent of the state's topsoil was rated surplus in moisture, up from 14 percent the previous week.

Towns more than 2.5 inches ahead of normal for rainfall since April 1: Warroad, Hutchinson (6.7 inches), Olivia, Aitkin (5 inches), Lamberton, Pipestone, Redwood Falls, Faribault and Preston. Only Winona was behind normal more than 2 inches.

Crop progress and condition ratings.

- Corn: 10-inch height, 18 inch average for this date. Condition: 75 percent good to excellent.

- Soybeans: 98 percent planted, 94 percent previous week; 89 percent emerged, 97 percent average. Condition: 75 percent good to excellent.

- Oats: 68 percent jointed, 75 percent average; 11 percent headed, 33 percent average. Condition: 77 percent good to excellent.

- Spring wheat: 35 percent jointed, 62 percent average; 1 percent headed, 22 percent average. Condition: 80 percent good to excellent.

n Barley: 32 percent jointed, 60 percent average; 4 percent headed, 24 percent average. Condition: 86 percent good to excellent.

- Dry beans: 96 percent planted, 84 percent previous week; 70 percent emerged, average not available. Condition: 64 percent good to excellent.

- Canola: 96 percent planted, 90 percent previous week. Condition: 76 percent good to excellent.

- Alfalfa: 74 percent first cutting, 59 percent previous week, 75 percent average. Condition: 86 percent good to excellent.

MONTANA: Range condition is 82 percent good to excellent compared with an average of 65 percent.

Topsoil moisture is ranked 40 percent adequate and 60 percent surplus -- none in short condition -- compared with a five-year average of 67 percent adequate and 14 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture is 51 percent adequate and 49 percent surplus compared with 64 percent adequate and 8 percent surplus. Scobey picked up 3.5 inches for the week.

The northeast part of the state shows almost every town 5 inches ahead of normal rainfall since April 1, with Glendive the highest at 8.4 inches ahead of normal.

Progress and condition rankings:

- Barley: 94 percent planted, 91 percent previous week; 77 percent emerged, 99 percent average; 5 percent boot stage; 34 percent average. Condition: 70 percent good to excellent.

- Corn: 91 percent planted, 87 percent previous week; 75 percent emerged, 98 percent average.

- Dry peas: 4 percent blooming, 25 percent average.

- Durum wheat: 91 percent planted, 79 percent previous week; 84 percent emerged, 95 percent average. Condition: 81 percent good to excellent.

- Oats: 89 percent planted, 88 percent previous week; 83 percent emerged, 97 percent average; 1 percent boot, 34 percent average. Condition: 60 percent good to excellent.

- Spring wheat: 90 percent planted, 83 percent previous week; 69 percent emerged, 99 percent average; 2 percent boot, 31 percent average. Condition: 53 percent good to excellent.

- Sugar beets: 93 percent emerged, 100 percent average.

- Winter wheat: 67 percent boot, 84 percent average; 13 percent headed 48 percent average. Condition: 69 percent good to excellent.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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