Farmers say crops look good despite late start

FARGO, N.D. -- Crop progress generally is thought to be about one or two weeks behind normal throughout the four states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

FARGO, N.D. -- Crop progress generally is thought to be about one or two weeks behind normal throughout the four states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

  • NORTH DAKOTA -- Farmers in western North Dakota remain concerned about persistent dry conditions, accounting largely for the 49 percent of the state that shows short or very short soil moisture. The five-year average for the categories is 32 percent short or very short.

Durum wheat was the poorest-ranked crop for condition, with 25 percent in the poor and very poor categories. Otherwise, crop percentage totals in the good and excellent categories included barley, 64; durum, 29; oats, 45; canola, 64; dry beans, 69; dry peas, 62; flax, 58; potatoes, 80; soybeans, 76; sugar beets, 84; and sunflowers, 65. Pasture and range conditions were 11 percent very poor, 25 percent poor, 34 percent fair, 29 percent good and 1 percent excellent.
Only 7 percent of the state's spring wheat is turning ripe compared with 16 percent at this date last year and an average of 13 percent for the past five years. It's a similar story for barley and oats.

Meanwhile, subsoil moisture is rated 50 percent short or very short, compared with last year's 29 percent in for this date. Some producers in the west are selling cattle because of a lack of grass and forage. The "very short" area takes in much of the western third of the state, from Williston nearly to Crosby, to Dickinson and Bowman.

Farmers in the northeast and east-central parts of the state received 1.5 inches of rain the week before the report and were posting adequate moisture, with patches of surplus northeast of Devils Lake and west of Wahpeton. Areas most short on inches of annual precipitation were the southwest (2.09 inches short) and west-central (2.9 inches short).


Much of the crop spraying is done, according to the report, with farmers working on haying. First cutting of alfalfa is slightly behind last year and the five-year average. Hay crop conditions are rated 45 percent poor and very poor. Pasture and range conditions are 36 percent poor and very poor. Stock water supplies are 56 percent adequate to surplus, compared with 91 percent last year and an 80 percent five-year average.

The only crop heading ahead of normal is durum wheat.

  • SOUTH DAKOTA -- With temperatures consistently into the 90s in the eastern part of the state, growing degree days are catching up, but still behind for the whole season by more than 100 growing degree days, according to the agency. Topsoil moisture is dropping quickly in many areas of the state, but subsoil moisture is rated at 80 percent adequate to surplus.

Farmers in the eastern part of the state report to Agweek that they could use moisture. Corn height as of July 13 was just a bit more than 2 feet -- 14 inches less than the average for the past five years.
Growing season average precipitation remains above normal for the entire state and is slightly above normal in the Interstate 29 corridor, but in the 30-day average, the eastern third of the state is up to 2 inches below. Moisture for the season is coming into short supply, with towns such as Britton, in northeast South Dakota, 4.2 inches short of moisture from normal -- among the driest spots in the state. The northwest part of the state, in towns such as Newell and Timber Lake, were nearly 5.5 inches ahead of normal for precipitation since April 1.

Spring wheat condition is 74 percent good to excellent, while winter wheat was ranked 74 percent good to excellent. Row crop percentages in those two top categories were corn, 74 percent; soybeans, 73 percent; sunflower 70 percent; barley, 81 percent; and cattle 91 percent.

Only 12 percent of the winter wheat is ripe, compared with the 58 percent average for this date. Barley is 18 percent turning color, compared with the 52 percent average. Only 26 percent of the soybeans were blooming, up from 5 percent the second week of July but considerably below the 42 percent average for the date.

  • MINNESOTA -- Small grains crop progress is behind last year and the five-year average. A quarter of the state's small grains had not yet headed as of July 13.

On the positive side, statewide moisture supplies are 70 percent adequate or surplus.
Corn height was 46 inches, up from 34 inches recorded the previous week. The corn height is considerably shorter than the 72-inch average in 2007 and the 59-inch five-year average. Similarly, soybeans were 13 inches, compared with 19 inches last year and 16 inches for the average. About a third of the soybeans were blooming, compared with two-thirds in 2007 and the 45 percent average for the date.

Small grains ripening is far short of average for this date, although that percentage could catch up quickly. Spring wheat was 4 percent ripe, compared with a 22 percent average. Barley was 5 percent ripe, compare with a 28 percent average.

An estimated 71 percent of the corn and 69 percent of the soybeans are rated in good-to-excellent category. Spring wheat is 73 percent in the good-to-excellent category, and potatoes 85 percent good to excellent. Sugar beets were ranked 65 percent good to excellent, with other crops in the two categories: dry beans, 61 percent; sunflower, 74 percent; canola, 77 percent. Much of northwest Minnesota received a shot of rain during the week, and much of the region is ahead of normal precipitation, but behind in growing degree days.


  • MONTANA -- With above-normal high temperatures in the 80s and 90s, the state is getting drier. Topsoil moisture was rated adequate or surplus in 36 percent of the state, below 52 percent during the second week of July. The average at this point last year was 42 percent in the two categories, and the five-year average is 44 percent.

Small grain crops have begun turning ripe in some areas, and heat is causing some crops to ripen prematurely. Hay producers in the northeast are planning to graze hayland. Some who had harvested hay had poor yields because of dry conditions.
Crop conditions in the good-to-excellent category include barley, 65 percent, an improvement from the previous week and a bit better than last year and the five-year average. Durum crops were only 23 percent good to excellent, with 38 percent in the poor and very poor areas. Spring wheat conditions are rated 49 percent good to excellent, down from last week's 62 percent and poorer than last year and the five-year average. Winter wheat looks better, with 60 percent in the good to excellent categories.

Some 79 percent of the spring wheat is headed and 7 percent turning ripe.

The northeast corner of the state is generally drier than seasonal normal rainfall since April 1. The southeast corner of the state is generally wetter than the average since April 1.

Here's a closer look from the ground, as seen by farmers in northwest Minnesota and eastern South Dakota.

Ground's-eye view

  • Mark Axness, has worked on the Lyle Hovland farm near Rothsay, Minn., for about 25 years. In early July, Axness was putting 50 pounds of anhydrous ammonia nitrogen on corn. The nitrogen went on without much interruption.

"The best thing with corn is if you can spoon-feed it all year," Axness says. The corn has since grown to about 5 feet tall, with good color.
"The heat units brought in really nicely," Hovland says.

Some of the beans on wetter ground have been yellow but hot weather has helped.

"It's been pretty good, really," Axness says. "We need to keep the heat up to get the heat units up."


Axness and Hovland have sprayed soybeans the first round for weeds. They haven't seen soybean aphids yet but are on the lookout. While the crop is coming along, input costs are a concern. Hovland pre-paid for fall application for fertilizer for 2009 -- urea, 11-52-0 (NPK), and potash. Hovland says farmers have seen run-ups in expenses before.

"Different numbers, higher levels and all that," Hovland says of the current situation.

He says he's recently run cash flow projections that show surprisingly good returns, despite high input costs, Hovland says.

"I jacked up everything, fertilizer, seed, chemical, crop insurance -- even rent. It's already up there and people are bidding. You have to treat landlords right, too."

  • Chris Cichy farms with his father, Bernal, east of Henning, Minn. They have 270 beef cows and finish their calves to slaughter weights, in addition to farming about 1,500 acres -- 600 wheat, 500 corn, 350 soybeans and 250 acres of hay.

"We went in two weeks behind, but once we got started, we had no rain delays so we got caught up," he says of planting season. "The crop looks pretty good right now. Corn is a little behind, but as late as we got it in I thought we'd be further behind."
Wheat was starting to fill and looked good. Beans were starting to flower, but the corn is too short to tassel.

"We had to spray alfalfa for alfalfa weevil after the first cutting," he says.

Cichy is hoping his 2½-ton-per-acre first-cutting of mixed-grass hay will be worth something this year. He notes that, with last year's drought, people with cattle had to feed hay in August that they would have reserved until December. No one is selling much hay right now. Cichy has a custom spraying business.

"We're kind of getting everybody wrapped up with second-time weed spraying, and everybody's concerned about aphids. We hope they don't come because it's an expense for everybody."


  • Darwin Huwe and his wife, Tara, west of Menahga, Minn., work to raise all of the feed for their 60-cow dairy herd. The Huwes raise alfalfa, corn, oats and wheat.

"It was a real battle this spring -- cold, wet. Slow," Darwin Huwe says.
He was just finishing up cutting his first alfalfa in the last week of June when he says he normally would have been starting on the second. He'd like to have enough corn so he has some to sell.

"Maybe that's wishful thinking," he says.

The crop had perked up, but Huwe was busy with a corral project and he's hoping a crew comes to put a shed to protect his second cutting. Yield for the first cutting was a bit better than normal. He recently got 1.6 inches of rain.

"We've been getting enough rain, but I did have to spray for the doggone alfalfa weevil. I was surprised to see them there, so now my hay is a little more valuable."

  • Ralph Larson and his brother, Don, farm 10 miles east of Canistota, S.D., in McCook County. He grows corn, soybeans and a little alfalfa for stock cows.

"The simplest way to describe it is that we are two weeks behind. We're not going to get it back unless we get it on the tail end," he says.
Larson started seeding in the first weekend in May. After a snow, he couldn't go full bore until mid-May.

"There was no sunshine. You couldn't get two days of sun in a row, so it wouldn't dry," he says.

Still, the corn was in by June 1 and the soybeans went in June 1 to June 24. There was some replanting of about 15 percent of both beans and corn. The corn looked pretty good in mid-July.

"Our corn should be tasseling by now. It looks pretty good now," Larson says.


He says he's hoping for a better fall than last year, when he took soybeans and corn out through water. The last time he had significant rain was in late June, and he says he could use another shot. Larson is just starting to price fertilizer for fall application.

"It's close to double last year," he says.

He says with fluctuating corn prices, it's too soon to tell whether it's worth it.

  • Andy Groos farms near Coleman, S.D., with his sons Chad, Eric and Grant. The Grooses are diversified farmers, with about 60 milking cows, 150 beef cows, 500 acres of corn, 450 acres of soybeans and 150 acres of alfalfa. On this year's alfalfa, they planted 1 bushel of oat seed as a cover crop.

"We put it in a round bale and grind it for the dairy cows and beef cows," Andy Groos says. "We grind pretty much everything -- we don't have to buy much feed."
After a tough planting season this spring, late June was looking much better. Crops are looking very good considering there hasn't been rain since four-tenths of an inch in late June, Chad Groos says. The economy is heating up, with high crop prices leading the way.

"It shows when you want to buy land or pay cash rent; it's pretty dang high," Andy Groos says.

Last year, he had an above-average crop with good test weights on the corn. Beans weren't as good as the previous three years.

"The beans this year are behind, but it'll all depend on the month of August," Chad Groos says. "If we get the rain -- and hopefully stay away from the frost in September -- they'll produce."

The Grooses will spray weeds for the second time on soybeans the week of July 20 and probably will throw in spray for soybean aphid -- a little earlier than normal.


"Our agronomist is suggesting to spray this earlier," Chad Groos says.

  • Dave Daniel farms six miles southwest of Wentworth, S.D., with his brother-in-law, Randy Hansen. The two feed cattle from 600 to 1,400 pounds in a feedlot and raise corn, soybeans and a little wheat and alfalfa. About a third of the corn typically goes through the cattle. Most of the rest goes to a nearby ethanol plant.

"We got a late start planting this year -- late April snows," Daniel says.
Some wet spots didn't get planted.

"On June 2, we decided to quit," he says. By July 4, the corn was a little behind.

By late July, he still needed rain -- a couple of inches would be nice.

"I'm crossing my fingers that it'll catch up," he says of the corn. "This warm weather is helping a lot."

Most farmers in his area are planting a little earlier-maturing varieties than they used to.

"It seems like the yields have been holding up well. Dry-down is a big factor. They don't want to have to burn propane or natural gas," Daniel says.

Some guys have done some scouting and found some aphids on soybeans.

  • Mike Berwald, milks 850 cows on an operation near Toronto, S.D. Berwald works with his father, Arlen, a brother, Calvin, and son, Austin. In addition to the cows, the Berwalds also farm about 3,300 acres.

"I think we're about 10 days behind" as of July 3, Mike Berwald says, but notes that the corn is shooting up with hot weather.
They chop up 70 percent of their corn for silage and raise about 75 percent of their alfalfa.

"I think we'll catch up. We've got the moisture," he says.

The Berwalds had a good alfalfa crop, he says, noting that the first cutting ran a healthy 1½ to 2 tons per acre.

"It's better than normal. With high-priced corn, it's going to be tough on everybody."

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