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These young wheat plants will be harvested in August. They’ll need to receive adequate moisture and to avoid excessive heat to develop properly. (Forum News Service photo)

Farmers around region fight to finish their planting under tough conditions

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

For the second straight year, many Upper Midwest farmers are battling uncooperative weather to plant their crops.

And for the second straight year, some farmers are running out of time.

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“It’s been a little cold and wet. And the rain keeps coming,” says Rutendo Nyamusamba, an agronomy-crop field specialist based in Rapid City, with South Dakota State University Extension.

Generalizing about the sprawling Upper Midwest, which includes everything from the corn and soybean fields of southeast Minnesota to the wheat fields of northern Montana, is risky. But as of mid-June, three things are clear.

• Farmers generally are close to wrapping up. Most deadlines to receive full federal crop insurance coverage have passed, and it’s dangerously late to plant many crops. But a few crops such as sunflowers, which can go into the ground relatively late, will continue to be planted until late June or early July.

• Many fields in the region won’t get planted. Producers who farm them will receive prevented-planting payments.

• Because many fields were planted late this spring, crops overall will be more susceptible than usual to unfavorable weather during the rest of the growing season. Late-planted crops in 2013 were boosted tremendously by favorable summer and fall weather; this year’s crops will need help, too.

Late-planted crops generally don’t yield as well as crops planted at the optimal times. Crops such as wheat, a cool-season grass, can be hurt when they’re planted late and exposed to too much mid-summer heat. Crops such as corn and soybeans can be hurt if they’re planted late and exposed to early fall frost. For example, wheat is ideally planted by mid-April in southern North Dakota. Each day wheat is not planted after mid-April results in a yield loss of 1.5 percent on average. So, a field planted to wheat 10 days after mid-April could yield 15 percent less than normal, according to the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Crop prices have plunged in the past year, so a 15 percent reduction in yields could leave a farmer with no profit or even a loss on the field, officials say. Continuing to plant later than usual generally paid off for area farmers last year, thanks to exceptionally cooperative summer and fall weather. A cool stretch in late July and early August came at a critical time in the development of many wheat and canola fields, boosting yields.

“That cool weather really was important,” says Mike Johnston, a Cando, N.D., farmer. A warm, frost-free September in 2013 was a boon for late-planted corn and soybean fields, giving both crops more time to develop. But there’s one encouraging development across the region this year. Late-planted crops, at least the ones that have avoided heavy rains, generally are thriving with the arrival of warmer temperatures. “The crop is looking good. We’ve got a full moisture profile, and it (the new crop) is just springing out of the ground,” says Justin Downs, a Billings, Mont., farmer.

Other farmers and ag officials across the region say the same thing.

“What’s planted really looks good. It’s just exploding out of the ground,” says Duaine Marxen, NDSU Extension agent in southwest North Dakota’s Hettinger County.

Nobody’s taking a good crop for granted, of course.

Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, says he’s “optimistically cautious. There are some good-looking fields. But it’s still a lot of time until harvest.”

That’s particularly true this year, given late planting. Only 5 percent of South Dakota was headed out by early June, compared with an average of 13 percent.

Though many regional farmers have battled wet conditions this spring, the danger of too little moisture later in the growing season remains.

As Downs puts it, “They say drought is never more than two weeks away.”

Already, parts of southwest Minnesota and southeast South Dakota are listed as “abnormally dry” or in “moderate drought” by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“We wish some of those areas that had too much rain this spring could have sent us some,” said Lizabeth Stahl, Worthington-based University of Minnesota Extension crops educator.

NASS numbers

Some area farmers made good planting progress the week of June 9. But the best numbers available come from the National Agricultural Statistics Service report issued June 9. The report doesn’t include planting rates for all crops in every state.

• Soybeans — 84 percent of North Dakota’s soybeans were planted, compared with 66 percent a year ago. Ninety-three percent of South Dakota soybeans were planted, compared with 79 percent a year ago. Eighty-six percent of Minnesota soybeans were planted, up from 70 percent a year ago.

• Sunflowers — 59 percent of North Dakota sunflowers were planted, up from 31 percent a year ago. Fiftyone percent of South Dakota sunflowers were planted, up from 18 percent a year ago.

• Spring wheat — North Dakota farmers had planted 93 percent of their wheat, up from 75 percent a year ago. In Minnesota, 94 percent of wheat was planted, down from 95 percent a year ago. Montana farmers had planted 97 percent of spring wheat, up from 94 percent a year ago.

• Corn — North Dakota farmers had planted 92 percent of their corn, up from 88 percent a year ago. In Minnesota, 96 percent of corn was planted, up from 90 percent a year ago. In Montana, 95 percent of corn was planted, up from 90 percent a year ago.

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