Northern Red River Valley remains far behind in spring seeding
Up to a third of the farm fields in Kittson and Roseau counties in the far northwest corner of Minnesota could end up spending the summer black, as lingering cool, wet weather stymies seeding plans knocked back by the extensive flooding earlier this spring.
A half inch or so of rain fell across the region Sunday into Monday. Useful, even needed, in some parts of the western Red River Valley, the rain was more than superfluous to many farmers who already have spent weeks watching water stand.
While most farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota are seeing most of their crops emerging, the northern Valley remains far behind normal spring schedules.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly report says 94 percent of the spring wheat in North Dakota was planted by Sunday, and more than 90 percent of the corn, barley and oats. Soybeans are 83 percent planted, compared with 93 percent by this time in a normal year.
In Minnesota, dry conditions are more of a worry for more of the state than the wet conditions plaguing Red River Valley farmers. Corn in Minnesota was 96 percent emerged by Sunday, with an average height of 6 inches, which is average.
Soybeans, too, are on normal track, with 74 percent emerged with a normal average height of 2 inches. Both crops are in generally excellent condition.
"For some of our guys here, they don't even have half their acres planted," said Derek Crompton, a regional agricultural extension agent in Roseau, Minn., who covers several counties.
It's the farmers with fields along waterways where floodwaters kept things backed up with water standing on fields for weeks who are the most behind, Crompton said. "It's kept those fields really wet. I was just out planting some test plots (Sunday) and got stuck."
And it's not just the humidity; it's the lack of heat.
"I took some soil temperatures and it actually went down 3 degrees," Crompton said. "I had some readings of only 49 degrees."
Hardy spring wheat seed can germinate, if barely, at such unfriendly temperatures, but oilseeds such as sunflowers don't even start to germinate at 49 degrees, he said.
"I have heard so many guys are sticking in soybeans because they have low input costs and it's something they don't have to spend a lot of money on," Crompton said. "A lot of guys I have been talking to this last week said they will give it one more week. If they can't get in by the end of this week, more than likely they are just going to leave those fields."
One of the more troubled spots is near Osnabrock and Edmore, N.D., where heavy rains two weeks ago stopped field work, and now Sunday's rain made it difficult again, said Randy Mehlhoff, director of the Langdon (N.D.) Research Extension Center. While planting winter wheat in the fall might be an option for some farmers, the crop often gets killed off during harsh winters in the northernmost reaches of North Dakota, he said.
Leslie Lubenow, ag extension agent in Pembina County, N.D., said only 60 to 65 percent of the crop has been planted in her county because of the wide and long-lasting flooding and cool, non-drying weather. Farmers say they are planting more soybeans and dry edible beans than they earlier had planned. But it's getting late even for late-season crops as federal crop insurance deadline for beans hits this week.
Even fields which are planted are showing uneven, spotty emergence because of the cold, overly wet weather, Lubenow said.
"We are going to have a lot of prevented plant, there's no doubt about that," Lubenow said, referring to the federally backed insurance program that reimburses farmers for part of their costs when they can't get the crop in.
Aside from simply trying to get the crop in, farmers also are facing the most widespread and worst soil erosion from the violent flooding in years, Lubenow said.
Not only is there all sorts of debris, like driftwood, to police from fields, Lubenow said. "There are just big scars where water ran in the fields, and erosion, down two to four feet in these channels, caused by the flood."