Summer storm hurts eastern ND crops

Jennifer Otteson and other crop insurance agents are always a key part of Upper Midwest agriculture. But their role becomes even more important after growing-season storms rumble through the area.

Grandin elevator
A morning sun clouded by smoke from fires in Canada backlights the CHS elevator in Grandin, N.D., on June 29 (Peter Bottini, Agweek).

Jennifer Otteson and other crop insurance agents are always a key part of Upper Midwest agriculture. But their role becomes even more important after growing-season storms rumble through the area.

That was the case after tornados and hail hit central and eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota on, June 27. Agweek visited eastern North Dakota's Cass and Traill counties on June 29 and found that Otteson, an agent with Cornerstone Ag Services in Buxton, was predictably busy.

"I'm getting some calls (from clients with storm damage)," she says. "But it's not as bad as I thought it might be."

Farmers and crop insurance adjusters were still assessing damage when Agweek visited. The full extent of losses won't be known until harvest.

What's clear now, however, is that wheat -- which had been the area's best-looking crop this growing season -- appears to have been hit the hardest by the June 27 storms. Many fields of wheat, a cool-season grass that thrived in this year's relatively cool June, had headed out, increasing susceptibility to the hail, high winds and heavy rain that the storm brought.


Two days later, pools of standing water remained in low-lying areas of many fields, which will cause some plants to drown, ag officials say.

Lodging -- when wheat plants are bent over by wind -- was visible in parts of some fields, too, also a result of the recent storm.

Farmers in Traill and northern Cass counties grow a number of crops, with corn, wheat and soybeans the most common. Because corn and soybeans are planted later than wheat, they're generally not as advanced as wheat by late June.

The weekend rain also affected haying, primarily of roadside ditches. Some cut grass that otherwise would have been baled was still too wet, with the delay affecting the hay's quality. A few farmers were cutting grass June 29, however.

The day of Agweek's visit was overcast, the eastern North Dakota sky filled with a thick haze created by smoke from Canadian wildfires. The haze was expected to block sunlight and hold down temperatures for several days; it was too early to say what effect, if any, this would have crops.

On the frontlines

BUXTON, N.D. -- Otteson works with clients across a wide swath of North Dakota and into western Minnesota. She had heard from a half-dozen large farming operations two days after the June 27 bad weather and expected to hear from more.

Assessing the damage is difficult because "it wasn't just from one storm," she says. "There were many different storms that kept brewing up."


The immediate Buxton area avoided serious damage. "We were lucky here," says Otteson, who grew up on a farm near Buxton.

Elsewhere, localized pockets of hail damaged crops, particularly wheat and other small grains. Dry beans suffered, too, she says.

The wheat crop was looking especially good, "which makes this (storm damage) even worse," says Otteson, who works in the independent agency with her daughter Kayla, office coordinator and agent in training.

Poor crop prices and potential profit margins have caused some producers to consider cutting back on expenses, including crop insurance. Damage from the June 27 storms is a painful reminder of crop insurance's value, Jennifer Otteson says.

A blow to crops

MAYVILLE, N.D. -- One of the joys of Upper Midwest agriculture is watching a potentially good crop develop in the fields. One of the frustrations is watching bad weather damage that crop.

Kevin Karel has known both emotions this growing season.

"We had such a great crop coming along. This (June 27 storms) has hurt it. It's hard to say how much, but it definitely will hurt, especially the wheat," says Karel, general manager of Mayport Farmers Co-op in Mayville. Sister cities Mayville and Portland sometimes are referred to collectively as Mayport.


Wheat acres in the Mayville-Portland area increased about 30 percent from a year ago, adding to the pain, he says.

Pools of standing water, which will lead to drown-out in fields, contribute to damage from hail, Karel says.

The June 27 precipitation, which came after substantial rains earlier in the month, "was just too much," he says.

Storm damage is "demoralizing" to farmers and others involved in agriculture, he says.

"I'm still excited about the wheat crop. But not as excited as I had been," he says.

Sunflower stronghold

GRANDIN, N.D. -- Sean Jalbert pays close attention to growing conditions in the Upper Midwest. But he's also interested in weather elsewhere, including the East Coast.

"Storms there this past winter increased our sales in Boston," he notes.


Jalbert is a grower contracting/agronomist with CHS Sunflower in Grandin, N.D. His location contracts confection sunflowers for human consumption and also buys sunflowers for the bird food market.

Difficult winters in high-population areas such as Boston cause bird enthusiasts to buy more feed for birds that otherwise might go hungry.

The Grandin facility, which employs about 150 full- and part-time employees in this town of about 170 residents, works with growers in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana and Canada.

When Agweek visited, Jalbert didn't have reports yet on the extent of damage from the June 27 storms. But earlier storms across the Upper Midwest have damaged some sunflower fields, he says.

Sunflowers are like most other crops in that "if thier growing point gets broken off, they're pretty much done," Jalbert says.

Farmer interest in growing sunflower rises and falls, just like it does for other crops. The downturn in crop prices led to more interest this year, especially in oil sunflowers, since sunflower prices held up relatively well, Jalbert says.

"It's a crop that guys have potential to make some profit on this year," he says.


A farmer sprays crops June 29 near Galesburg, N.D. (Peter Bottini, Agweek).

A farmer sprays crops June 29 near Galesburg, N.D. (Peter Bottini, Agweek).

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