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Dry spell means early start for Grand Forks County farmers

There's a crispness in the air as winter gives way to spring. Just enough so that Evan Montgomery's nose has begun to run. He wipes it clean, hands still gloved, and tucks the handkerchief back into his navy blue jumpsuit, stained by dirt, grease...

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Evan Montgomery disconnects a cultivator from the tractor after removing it from storage. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

There's a crispness in the air as winter gives way to spring.

Just enough so that Evan Montgomery's nose has begun to run. He wipes it clean, hands still gloved, and tucks the handkerchief back into his navy blue jumpsuit, stained by dirt, grease and time.

He's just hopped out of a John Deere tractor, one of several at the Burkland family farm out on 12th Avenue Northeast, about eight miles south of Grand Forks International Airport, and is working to attach a 40-foot, 16-row sunflower seed planter to the back.

David Burkland, the farm's owner and Montgomery's father-in-law, helped him line up the green behemoth of a machine and now stands back to watch Montgomery work.

The son-in-law has been working all day, getting equipment "freed up" from its winter slumber and ready for planting season. He'll soon be taking over the farming operation as Burkland nears retirement, but today he's already putting in the bulk of the work.

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A dry start to the spring season, with a favorable forecast over the next couple of weeks, means farmers all over Grand Forks County are preparing to take to the fields.

"It's looking great," Montgomery said of their planting prospects Monday. "It's looking like it could be as early as ever."

Work continues year-round at the Burkland farm, with maintenance items such as oil changes and general upkeep taken care of in the winter. Montgomery said by getting all their heavy equipment outside and in order, they're "cocking the hammer," ready to fire and begin planting as soon as they can.

"We started planting on April 10 last year, and this year is very similar," Burkland said. "That early start certainly looks attainable."

It's looking like many farmers in the area, especially those preparing to plant grains, such as wheat and barley, could be aiming for a similar timetable, Willie Huot said.

Huot, an agricultural and natural resources agent with the North Dakota State University Extension Service, said some farmers in the Bismarck area have already begun planting and those nearby will soon follow suit.

"That's expected in a dryer year," Huot said. "Without any extra rain we could see people in the fields in the next 10 days to two weeks."

Huot said the Extension Service has been in contact with the National Weather Service and it appears as if farmers will get that dry window.

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"It doesn't appear that we're going to get significant moisture that will curtail planting," he said.

Crop insurance dates for 2016, or timeframes for which farmers must plant their crop to make sure they are insured in case of disaster, are beginning soon. In Grand Forks County, April 1 starts the window for wheat and barley, surely to be the first two crops in area fields, while farmers can begin planting corn on April 15.

"Those dates are important," Huol said. "You don't want to plant ahead of that."

The soybeans and dry beans season could start as early as May 5, according to the insurance date.

With the calendar nearly flipped to April, the Burkland farm will soon be ready to start its eight or nine days worth of planting, covering around 6,000 acres.

"That's what we're aiming for," Montgomery said of the planting dates. "Not too early, not too late."

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Evan Montgomery backs up a tractor and cultivator Monday afternoon. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

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