Producers reseed winter wheat in western N.D. and Montana, scouting for disease in S.D.

Winter wheat producers in western North Dakota and parts of Montana are fighting to keep their crops healthy despite dry weather since the fall planting. South Dakotans, meanwhile, hope to head off another round of stripe rust.

Winter wheat producers in western North Dakota and parts of Montana are fighting to keep their crops healthy despite dry weather since the fall planting. South Dakotans, meanwhile, hope to head off another round of stripe rust.

"The winter wheat overall, up here, is in trouble," says farmer Jay Elkin of Taylor, near Dickinson, N.D. "We got about three-quarters of an inch to an inch of rain last week, but the damage really had already been done."

Harlan Klein of Elgin, N.D., is the District 1 commissioner of the North Dakota Wheat Commission. His fields got 3 inches of rain last fall, but he knows things are different up where Elkin farms.

"The farther north and east you go, I think it's worse," he says. "That's because it's so much drier. You get up north into Dickinson, up to Killdeer, (N.D.) in that area, it's really dry up that way -- they've been dry right on through."

Winter wheat in many areas is either being reseeded to spring wheat or it's going into sunflowers or other crops, once the insurance adjusters declare the crop uninsurable. And because winter wheat can't be covered until the crop is established, the producers in the western part of the state pay particular attention to their coverage.


"Insurance coverage was pretty good from the election prices last year that came out here," Klein says. "Insurance has been kind of set, and coverage is going to be OK. And we're going to depend on it, there's no doubt about it."

Though last fall was no treat for Elkin and his neighbors, it was the winter weather that really began to worry him.

"Really, it was probably the lack of snowfall that hurt our winter wheat crop more than anything," he says. "We were open all winter, we had no snow cover."

His wheat broke dormancy a bit earlier than usual under dry, cold conditions. The stooling was taking place, he says, but those stools probably were dropping away.

"So what's happening is we're ending up with a winter wheat crop that, for the most part, is probably going to be somewhat short, not only on yield but overall, in height."

His crop is now in the boot stage, close to throwing a head, but stands only 8 to 10 inches tall.

"It's going to be awfully short," Elkin says.

Still, he remains hopeful.


"It's going to be interesting to see whether or not it can recover somewhat," he says. "I do believe that if we receive some adequate moisture here, it will recover somewhat."

With the amount of damage out there, Elkin had no choice but to reseed some of his crop to spring wheat.

"We reseeded our winter wheat back about the 8th of May," Elkin says. "We reseeded about 800 acres, and it was quite dry at that time. That's come up, and it looks fairly decent, but we're going to need timely rains in order for the spring wheat crop in this part of the country to pull through."

The weather outlook does hold a little promise. Rain was predicted in the 10-day forecast for western North Dakota. Elkin figures he'll believe it when he sees it.

"It's been one of those years where they'll predict 80 percent chance, we get nothing, and they predict 20 percent, and we end up with some rain," he says.


Farther west, Montana wheat growers are facing some of the same challenges.

"We've heard a lot of our producers have said they are reseeding," says Lola Ruska, executive vice president of Montana Grain Growers Association. But their problems were different coming into spring.


"The reason is not because of winter kill, it's because when they put it in last fall, it was so dry they didn't get a very good stand established," she says. "And then our early spring was so dry."

Mike Riddell is an adjuster for McNeil Insurance in Great Falls, Mont. He reports that 15 percent of his clients in Montana's Golden Triangle wheat country have replanted to spring wheat.

"A week ago, before we got all the rain, we were a month behind," he says. "Now we're maybe two weeks behind from where we were a year ago."

From an insurance standpoint, he says a "lot more guys are concerned with cutting to their APH," or actual production history.

"They're pretty much all going to get their guarantee, they think," he says. "If everything good goes on, they're going to get to their APH, they're hoping."

He recalls last year, when a lot of his clients were on their way to their best winter wheat crop ever.

"And then it got hit with hail or the heat turned on in July and the rain stopped," he says. "Taking it to the bin, they didn't have the best crop ever, but in late May, early June, they all had an incredible stand. This year, they don't feel the same."

For the producers who recently decided to reseed to spring wheat, the timing has worked out pretty well.


"The stand is up, and we've actually had anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of rain across the majority of the state here in the last 10 days," Ruska says.

South Dakota

South Dakota has seen plenty of rain, but ongoing humid conditions mean that they remain on guard for disease.

"We've got a little bit of a situation with this humid weather. We're watching diseases," says Randy England, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission. "Tan spot is an issue right now."

Stripe rust is another. South Dakota was hit hard with it last year.

"We're not seeing quite so much incidence of that, but we're not out of the woods, yet," he cautions. "Stripe rust moves up from the South in wind and weather patterns, and we haven't had those weather patterns like we had last year, so we haven't seen much incidence of it."

Scab also is a concern, given the high humidity.

"As it warms up right at flowering, we've got to be watching it pretty closely," he says.


In fact, England reminds his producers to keep a sharp eye for all diseases. The state still brought in a record crop last year, despite growers' troubles.

"We still had a tremendous crop, but we had a potential for even better, if it wasn't those particular diseases," he says. "It's just a matter of scouting the fields and the timing of doing some of your spraying."

The crops in the ground now are in pretty good condition, England says. "Anything that was in summer fallow may be a little sparse, but otherwise the wheat looks pretty good overall."

About 60 percent of their winter wheat is rated good to excellent.

His weather wish: "We need some warmer weather for crop development."

Back in North Dakota, Jay Elkin is keeping his fingers crossed for rain.

"All spring long, my dad was saying, 'We'll plant it in the dust and the bins will bust.' Well, we'll certainly find out, because we planted in the dust."



The National Agricultural Statistics Service is reporting these conditions in its May 28 report:

  •  Montana: Days suitable for field work 2.8. Topsoil moisture is 6 percent very short, compared with 2 percent last year; 15 percent short, 11 percent last year; 63 percent adequate, 71 percent last year; and 16 percent surplus, 16 percent last year. Subsoil moisture is 24 percent very short, 5 percent last year; 30 percent short, 22 percent last year; 43 percent adequate, 65 percent last year; and 3 percent surplus, 8 percent last year. Field tillage work in progress 4 percent none, 4 percent just started, 92 percent well under way.

Winter wheat boot stage 10 percent, compared with 33 percent last year. Winter wheat condition are 6 percent very poor, 1 percent last year; 18 percent poor, 2 percent last year; 44 percent fair, 22 percent last year; 29 percent good, 44 percent last year; and 3 percent excellent, 31 percent last year.
Almost all areas of the state received above-normal precipitation for the week ending May 25. Highs were mostly in the 70s and 80s, and lows were mostly in the 30s and 40s.

  •  North Dakota: Days suitable for fieldwork 5.8. Topsoil moisture is 13 percent very short, 41 percent short and 46 percent adequate. Subsoil moisture is 26 percent very short, 42 percent short and 32 percent adequate.

Rainfall in western areas of the state provided temporary relief for livestock and emerging crops. A frost occurred in isolated areas in the northeastern quarter of the state.

  •  South Dakota: Days suitable for fieldwork 5. Topsoil moisture is 1 percent very short, 11 percent short, 75 percent adequate and 13 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture is 5 percent very short, 15 percent short, 71 percent adequate and 9 percent surplus.

Winter wheat boot is 41 percent, compared with 81 percent in 2007 and 73 percent avgerage. Despite cooler-than-average temperatures and some severe weather in South Dakota, positive gains were made in spring fieldwork across the state.

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