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Northern Plains prevented planting acres increase this year as farmers run out of time

Across Steele County, about 15% of the acres weren’t planted this spring, said Johnny Jorgensen, a Hunter (North Dakota) Insurance Agency who sells Rural Community Insurance Services and NAU Country federal crop insurance. Traill County, which borders Steele County on the east, has about the same percentage of unplanted acreage and Barnes County has from 35 to 40% prevented planting acres, Jorgensen estimated.

A man with a farm cap leans on a white pickup in front of a field with weeds and water.
Hope, North Dakota, farmer Tony Richards stands in front of one of the fields that was too wet to plant in spring 2022. This photo was taken on July 5, 2022, about a mile from Richards' farmstead.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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HOPE, N.D. — Too much rain and too little heat equaled a spring planting season that ended up too late to get hundreds of acres of Richards and Judisch Farms’ crops planted.

In early July, about 20% of the farm’s acreage is unplanted and either has bare soil or is weedy. The bare soil is where it finally dried enough to work the ground, and the fields with weeds are ones that still are too saturated to support farm equipment driving on them.

Across Steele County, about 15% of the acres weren’t planted this spring, said Johnny Jorgensen, a Hunter (North Dakota) Insurance Agency who sells Rural Community Insurance Services and NAU Country federal crop insurance.

Traill County, which borders Steele County on the east has about the same percentage of unplanted acreage, while Cass County, which borders Steele on the southeast, has about 5%, he said.

A man in a yellow shirt sits at a desk that has a folder on it.
Across Steele County, North Dakota, about 15% of the acres weren’t planted this spring, said Johnny Jorgensen, a Hunter (North Dakota) Insurance Agency who sells Rural Community Insurance Services and NAU Country federal crop insurance.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Neighboring Barnes County, where about 35- to 40% of the acres have not been planted, has the highest number of prevented planting acres of the four, Jorgensen estimated.

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Official records of unplanted acres won't be available until the Farm Service Agency releases them, which likely will be later this summer or in early fall.

Although there are no official estimates of total U.S. prevented planting acres, the U.S. Agriculture June 30, 2022, planting intentions report, may give a glimpse of how many there will be.

Nationally, there were still a total of 4 million acres of corn and 15.8 millions of soybeans left to be planted, USDA said.

It appeared that some of those unplanted acres are in South Dakota and Minnesota, as well as North Dakota.

In South Dakota, for example, the March 31, 2022, U.S. Prospective Plantings report pegged acreage that would be a record 6.2 million, but the June 30 planting report pegged acreage at 300,000 less than that. Meanwhile, the state’s soybean acreage in the Prospective Plantings report was estimated at a record high 5.7 million, but the planted acres in the June report were 5.5 million, USDA said.

In South Dakota, besides corn and soybeans, farmers still had barley, oats, sorghum, sunflowers and other spring wheat acres left to plant when the planting intentions survey was taken between May 28 and June 6, USDA said.

Farmers in Minnesota, meanwhile, had unplanted acres of barley, canola, dry edible beans, oats, sunflowers and other spring wheat as of the agency's survey.

The June planting report also indicated that Minnesota farmers were not planting as many soybean acres. Farmers intended to plant 8 million acres of beans, the USDA March 31 report estimated, but they actually planted 7.5 million. Corn acreage estimates, however, increased from 7.8 million in the Prospective Plantings report to 8.3 million acres in the acreage report, so at least some of the soybean acres might have been replaced with corn.

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Prevented planting was a last resort for many farmers, Jorgensen believes.

“Every farmer was trying to get in every acre they could. The incentive was there," he said.

But for Steele County farmers, a June thunderstorm thwarted their plans.

“Once that last rain came, that was it for the farmers. There were entire fields put into PP,” Jorgensen said.

The prevented planting acres aren’t confined to one area of Richards and Judisch Farms' operation.

“It’s kind of across all of our acres,” Tony said.

For example, a 100-acre field about a mile south of his farm near Hope is too wet, as is an entire section about 15 away, near Clifford, North Dakota, that belongs to Richards, his father, Randy Richards, and their other partner, Scott Judisch.

A man wearing tan pants, black shirt and blue cap leans on a pickup while he talks to a woman in a green shirt.
Tony Richards and Megan Vig talked about the options for cover crops that can be planted on prevented planting acres. This photo was taken on July 5, 2022, about a mile from Richards' farmstead near Hope, North Dakota.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“Every year there’s a small percentage we don’t get seeded,” Randy said. “This year was out of this world.

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“Going around 12 sloughs in a 90-acre field is not normal,” he said.

Prevented plant acres across Steele County range from minimal to 25%, said Megan Vig, North Dakota Agricultural Extension agent-Steele County.

“Those acres are coming from field margins to wet, low spots, but also whole fields,” she said. “Soil type is playing a factor, but also, the fall moisture, (the) water table level. We’ve also had some spotty rain events.”

The North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network reported that more than 10 inches of rain fell in Steele County during May and June 2022, and some farms received more than that, Vig said.

“We’ve had some funky weather,” she said.

Since 1993, Richards and Judisch Farms generally has been in a wet cycle, Tony said.

A notable exception to that was last year during the spring, summer and early fall when there was a drought.

“We seeded every acre last year,” Randy said.

Despite predictions from weather experts that the drought would continue into this year, it ended at Richards and Judisch Farms in October when 9 inches of rain fell and saturated some of the farm’s fields so much that the Richards couldn’t get into them to do tillage work.

“October primed the pump,” Randy said. Instead of the drought extending into spring 2022 as some weather experts had predicted, heavy snow fell in April, followed by excessive rains in May and June.

“It’s going to be an early spring and all of a sudden it’s raining and flooding,” Randy said.

Besides being wet, the spring was cold — so cold the frost didn’t come out of the ground until June — which further delayed fields from drying enough to plant.

Richards and Judisch Farms finally got started seeding on May 19, 2022.

Despite the lateness of the season, the Richards’ were determined to get the crop planted — until more rain fell over Memorial Day weekend. The crop insurance deadline for corn was looming, so after that round of rain, they had to accept the fact that some of the fields on which they had intended to plant the commodity wouldn’t get seeded.

Richards and Judisch Farms continued to plant soybeans and pinto beans in June, finishing on the 10th, which is the final day for full crop insurance coverage. Then strong winds blew out a total of about 1,500 acres of their soybeans and pinto bean acres, and they had to reseed it, finally wrapping up 2022 spring planting on June 23.

In early July, Tony, Randy, and their employee Zach Canton were tallying up prevented planted acres and recording the crops they did get planted for the Farm Service Agency. The deadline to report 2022 crop acreage is July 15.

A man wearing a blue shirt holds an i-Pad that shows a field with several areas that were too wet to plant.
Zach Canton, who works for Richards and Judisch Farms, near Hope, North Dakota, shows a planting map that highlights that this spring there were about a dozen ponds in one 90-acre field. This photo was taken July 5, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Some acres may not be dry enough to work, so the Richards will hire an aerial sprayer to "knock the weeds down," Tony said.

If the fields in prevented planting eventually dry enough to be worked, the Richards will dig them and plant barley seed they had intended to plant as a cash crop on some of the prevented planting acres. Unplanted areas of fields larger than 20 must be seeded to a cover crop, Randy said.

In the fall, they either will till it up or allow cattle producers to bale it.

Richards and Judisch Farms are planting a conventional barley variety only because they already had purchased it, and not because the seed was inexpensive, he said.

“There’s no such thing as a cheap commodity,” he said. “You have a record price on everything.”

For the first time, this year prevented planting acres can be sold as forage crops, and some farmers planted a forage barley that is beardless, Vig said.

Besides spending money on seed that didn’t get planted for a cash crop, Richards and Judisch Farms last fall pre-purchased fertilizer and chemicals because it appeared that there would be a shortage in spring 2022.

“With the shortages that they were talking about, everybody was just nervous about getting chemicals,” Tony said.

Beside buying seed and inputs they couldn’t use, the Richards also will spend money controlling weeds on the prevented plant acres.

Randy has seen plenty of tough times in agriculture during more than 50 years he’s been farming, but this one stands out.

“This year is probably the biggest challenge because the amount of dollars it takes to farm is extreme,” Randy said. “The stakes are way higher than they’ve ever been, the shortage of parts and the things you need are double the cost.”

Whether or not the prevented planting insurance covers farmers’ expenses varies from farmer to farmer, depending on factors that include their cost of inputs, Jorgensen said. Farmers had the option to “buy up” coverage before the March 15, 2022, closing date, which added an additional 5% on their crop insurance guarantee of 55% on corn and 60% on soybeans, he noted.

Three men sit at a table working on mapping where they planted and didn't plant fields in the spring of 2022.
From left, Tony Richards looks on as his father Randy Richards and their employee, Zach Canton, on July 5, 2022, calculate unplanted and unplanted acreage, which they will report to the Farm Service Agency by the July 15, 2022 deadline.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Richards and Judisch Farms didn’t buy up coverage this year because last fall was dry, Randy said.

For them, prevented planting insurance won’t help ease the financial — or emotional — stress they’re experiencing in a year where commodity prices of the crops they couldn’t seed have been at record highs

“Prevent plant is a screen door in a submarine. It doesn’t come close to covering expenses," Tony said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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