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Farmers wait out long wet season

John Fortin grabs a new oil filter to replace the old one on a John Deere 8400 tractor Wednesday on the Staveteig farm four miles south of Grand Forks. Fortin was helping Richard and Steve Staveteig ready equipment for spring planting which has been delayed by a cool, wet weather and soggy fields. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Leaden skies dripping rain made Wednesday good only for indoor work for farmers.

Fields already sodden from last fall took on more water, pushing back an already late planting season.

Richard Staveteig wheeled a John Deere 8400 tractor into the shop in the afternoon, and John Fortin quickly put 5-gallon plastic pails underneath the engine and unscrewed the plug to drain the oil.

"We didn't get around to changing it last fall," said Staveteig, who farms with his brother, Steve, and father, David, three miles south of Grand Forks next to Columbia Road.

And there's plenty of time right now to get ready for putting the crop in the fields that won't be dry enough to try for a long while.

By 7 p.m. Wednesday, 0.37 inch of rain had fallen on the Grand Forks area, according to the National Weather Service. But the fields looked like inches had fallen and are days, or a week or more, away from allowing in tractors.

Today another quarter-inch of rain is in the forecast.

"Not much else to do except get everything ready," Steve Staveteig said.


They raise wheat, beans, corn and sugar beets on the farm where their grandfather, George Staveteig, farmed and where he still lives on the site. He is retired from years as a Grand Forks County Commissioner, but not entirely retired from farming.

Things still are done, in part, the way his grandfather did them, and he still helps at planting and harvest, Richard said. "He's out there checking on the fields at least once a week," he said.

Even the oil change schedule bears his mark.

"The book says every 250 hours (of operation)," Richard said. "But we change the oil about every 100 hours. My grandpa always changed the oil at about 100 hours, and we do it the same."

It helps to have on hand perspective going back a half-century and more when it comes to farming in years like this.

His grandfather can remember planting durum wheat as late as the Fourth of July, Richard said. "And they got the crop off that fall, too."

Way behind

Already, spring planting is behind schedule, but the Staveteigs aren't feeling any panic yet.

Average starting dates for spring field work in North Dakota have ranged from April 14 to April 29 the past nine years and mostly in the middle of the month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's North Dakota statistics service.

The Staveteigs, like nearly every farmer in the region, haven't put a wheel into a field yet.

Usually, 25 percent or more of the spring wheat in North Dakota is planted by now. But only 1 percent was planted by Sunday, USDA reported. Only a few acres of wheat have been planted in Grand Forks County, or in most of the Red River Valley, parts of which remain covered in floodwaters.

Earlier this week, USDA projected May 1 as the start of field work this year in North Dakota.

It won't be close to that around here.

"For sure not next week," Richard Staveteig said. "Maybe the week after."


One of the extra wrinkles this year is so many acres of unharvested corn still out in the fields. Even corn fields that were harvested weren't dug under because of the late growing season last year and the record fall rainfall in the Red River Valley.

Staveteigs have a couple of fields of corn stalks that will need to be worked in before a new crop can be planted.

If planting gets delayed too much, they likely will switch some acres from corn to soybeans, which can be planted later.

At least the delay means they will be more than ready to go all out once the fields dry out, the Staveteig brothers said.

"I think we'll be fine," Richard said.