Wet fields cloud planting outlook

USDA statistics show much of Upper Midwest is too wet.

A farmer works around a wet area in a field north of Jamestown, N.D. , in late May 2019. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service

There are times when area farmers need rain badly. There also are times when they need badly to avoid it. This spring is very much in the latter category, especially for producers in North Dakota and South Dakota.

Much of the Upper Midwest is struggling with excess moisture, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, and that threatens to push back planting — generally a negative for area farmers, a North Dakota State University Extension agronomist said.

"It's better to get crops planted early," Hans Kandel said.

Early planting doesn't guarantee good yields. Nor does planting them late guarantee poor yields. But getting seed into the ground early in the growing season exposures the crop to more sunlight, which is needed for crops to develop properly, and decreases the odds that crops will be hurt by fall frost, Kandel said.

Surplus moisture in fields works against an early start to planting this spring, according to the state summary report released March 31 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS, an arm of USDA..


In North Dakota, 37% of topsoil had excess moisture, with 62% of topsoil rated as having adequate moisture and 1% being short. The numbers were almost the same for subsoil moisture: 32% was rated surplus, 67% adequate and 1% being short.

South Dakota topsoil conditions were the same as North Dakota's: 37 % surplus, 62% adequate and 1% short. Subsoil conditions in South Dakota were rated 39% surplus and 61% adequate. Put differently, nearly two of five farmland acres in the state were too wet.

In Montana, moisture shortages, as well as moisture surpluses, are present, thought surpluses were more prevalent, according to the NASS report: 18% of topsoil had surplus moisture, with 72% rated adequate and 10% short; 23% of subsoil had surplus moisture, with 71% relates adequate, 5% short and 1% very short.

Percentages weren't included in the Minnesota and Iowa state summaries.

But the Minnesota report mentioned concern about local flooding, while the Iowa summary reported that "field work has been delayed due to wet field conditions from persistent rain and snow and frost melting."

Kandel said the wet spring has led to more interest in tile drainage, which, unfortunately, is not something that can be quickly implemented.

He also advised farmers not to "mud in the crop," or to plant in extremely wet conditions — a practice that can cut sharply into yields. Though waiting for better, drier conditions can be difficult, doing so is usually prudent, he said.

What To Read Next
Get Local