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Spring snowstorm a welcome site for western North Dakota crops

The spring snowstorm in western North Dakota may have pushed back planting but wheat growers aren't complaining. They needed the moisture and now see better yield potential to take advantage of high prices. There also is more snow in the forecast for the Minot area that already got about 4 feet of snow from the mid-April storm.

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Conditions haven't been favorable for planting starting anytime soon.
Ann Bailey / Agweek file photo
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The snow that buried western North Dakota and caused headaches for livestock producers has brightened the outlook for the crop season.

Mark Birdsall farms and runs a seed and agronomy business near Berthold, North Dakota, where he says about 40 inches of snow fell starting on April 12. That wasn't quite as much as Minot, about 20 miles to the east, with about 48 inches of snow.

"The attitude overall ... is much better than it was before the snowfall," Birdsall said on Wednesday, April 20, even as another round of snow was predicted for the weekend.

While it caused hardships for livestock producers, it also helped replenish sloughs and watering holes.

Birdsall said it helped to have cover on fields because the snow came with strong winds. "But if you had any amount of cover on your fields ... it held snow pretty good," he said.

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He said the first foot of snow had an estimated 1.5 inches of moisture in it.

While wheat growers like himself have been happy to see prices going up, there had not been much confidence that yields would give farmers the ability to take advantage of them this growing season.

He said some growers may have planned on more soybeans or field peas in western North Dakota to save on fertilizer costs.

"This at least provides a little more optimism for putting those higher priced inputs down," Birdsall said. So he said he anticipates spring wheat to regain some acres at least in western North Dakota. "The added moisture at least gives you the opportunity to capture a few more bushels at these higher prices, which helps to cover some of those input costs."

Before the snow "the potential for yield was very low."

Because the frost had already come out of the ground, the snow is able to seep into the soil as it melts, which has been happening quite slowly. With the temperatures staying cool, Birdsall said field work won't start until at least the end of the first week of May and that could change depending on what happens over the weekend.

And he says some growers in his area will plant spring wheat into June so a delayed start shouldn't deter wheat growers.

"One thing about spring wheat, it has a pretty wide window," Birdsall said.

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He also said barley, where some attractive contracts are being offered for malting and pet food, could benefit and take some potential spring wheat acres.

He said it may be a different story in eastern North Dakota where farmers like to get in the field earlier and corn is a more viable option.

The spring snowstorm was widespread, from eastern Montana to northern Minnesota.

Charlie Vogel, is the executive director with the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers and lives at Thief River Falls, Minnesota, where there was about 14 inches of snow. But that came after about 1.5 inches of rain and another half-inch of rain followed. Rain was in the forecast again for the weekend.

With the global demand for wheat, he said if fields can dry out, wheat acres might go up, but if it continues to be wet, acres could drop slightly.

"But the fundamentals are strong for wheat," he said.

He says from watching Twitter, there already is some talk about the potential for prevented planting acres but he said he feels like that is premature.

"We have time yet," he said.

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Growers should be in the fields by the second week of May.

"It's going to be tight of planting windows," he said. "But modern equipment's big. When they get going, a lot happens fast."

And with the moisture, there is potential for a good crop and good markets.

"It's a long way to harvest, but there's hope," he said.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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