Northern Plains producers hold on as weather swings to extremes
Across the region, producers have been dealing with extreme weather conditions this growing season, including drought, frost, wind or even tornadoes, heat, heavy rain and hail.
Some farmers south of Jamestown, N.D., are hoping the third time will be a charm for planting soybeans.
The first round of planting went well. Crops were coming up and looking pretty good, albeit a bit dry in North Dakota’s drought conditions. Then, a frost in late May zapped many of the soybeans.
Amanda McClean, a Ypsilanti, N.D., farmer and a research agronomist, said corn took the frost just fine, but a fair amount of soybeans were replanted.
For some farmers, the second planting of soybeans came up only for high winds to break off young plants, she said. For others, a storm June 7-8 washed out the new seeds or plants.
“That’s when we had that storm here . . . that basically just sat right along Jamestown and south of Jamestown that some people got anywhere from inch, inch and a half, to 10 inches, with hail,” said Alicia Harstad, North Dakota State University Extension ag and natural resources agent for Stutsman County.
“In our area, we had anywhere from 4-5 inches of rain with a little bit of rain but mostly more hail than anything, “ McClean said. “We definitely needed some of that moisture, especially with those really hot days and windy days we were having, so the rain was a good thing, but not 5 inches at one time.”
She knows a number of people who got their planters into the field for the third time.
And Stutsman County is far from alone. Across the region, producers have been dealing with extreme weather conditions this growing season, including drought, frost, wind or even tornadoes, heat, heavy rain and hail.
“It kind of was about every weather condition you could have within a six month period,” Harstad said about her area.
An intense storm
On June 10, meteorologists warned a storm brewing in eastern Montana would move through the region and had the potential to develop into tornados, hail, high winds and heavy rain.
“It was intense,” said Katelyn Dynneson Larson. “That storm was crazy. We had recorded winds in our area of 110 miles per hour.”
Dynneson Larson and her family raise small grains and irrigated corn and have a feedlot and a cow-calf operation in Sidney, Mont.
Dynneson Larson’s area saw rain, hail and even tornadoes as the storm raged June 10-11. The wind did a large amount of damage: Power lines went down, trees fell, sheds were destroyed and grain bins were blown over and damaged.
“Luckily our crops are in a stage that they could handle the damage, and they fared alright,” she said.
According to the National Weather Service, the storm produced multiple tornadoes, hail the size of golf balls and heavy rainfall that caused flash flooding as it swirled around the Montana-North Dakota border.
That storm and another that came out of northeast South Dakota moved eastward, with damaging winds through the Dakotas. That was just one of many wind storms that have plagued the area since spring.
“We’ve definitely been seeing a lot of erosion,” Harstad said.
Some of that, she believes, goes back to high amounts of prevented planting in the Dakotas in 2020. Wet conditions in 2019 lingered into early 2020, making it impossible for some farmers to plant crops or even cover crops later on. Then, conditions dried out in the fall and into the winter.
“That really led into these perfect storm conditions,” she said. “We really saw a lot of soil blow this spring.”
Despite the recent rainfall from the storm, Dynneson Larson said the drought is still playing a big part in her operation.
“We have been experiencing very severe drought, some of the worst conditions I have seen, especially this early on. It has definitely changed our management of our cow calf herd,” Dynneson Larson said.
She said the sale barns in her area have been full, with some ranchers downsizing their herds because of lack of forage.
Heat and heat stress
While big storms cause obvious damage, lingering early summer heat has been taking a toll on crops and livestock across the region.
Record temperatures have been common across the Northern Plains, according to National Weather Service data. On June 5, at least three central North Dakota cities hit record highs: Bismarck (103 degrees, topping the old high of 96 from 1952), Minot (99 degrees, topping 97 from 1900) and Jamestown (102, topping 96 from 1952). The normal high temperature for June 5 in Bismarck is 75. On June 15, Rapid City, S.D., hit 99, tying the same day in 1952, while Fort Meade, S.D., just to the north hit 103, breaking 1952’s 99. The normal high for June 15 in Rapid City is 77.
That heat, agronomists say, is more stressful on crops than lack of moisture. That’s particularly an issue for cool season grasses like spring wheat, which would prefer temperatures in the 50s and 60s.
“Anytime you get an extended period above 75, 80 degrees it really starts cutting into your yield, even at the vegetative stage,” said Jonathan Kleinjan, South Dakota State University Extension agronomist.
He said it’s possible for the spring wheat to recover somewhat. Yield loss will depend on how long the heat lasts.
“It's hard to put a number on it at this stage but I think you know maybe we've lost 25% of our yield potential already,” he said.
Row crops likely will fare better. Kleinjan said yields for corn and beans aren’t set until the plants hit reproductive stages. Beans have the ability to shut down when it’s hot and dry and wait for rain.
The record-breaking temperatures also have put livestock producers on alert. For dairy cattle, milk production often drops in heat, so producers need to keep cows comfortable and healthy.
“Take a look at your rations, adjust them there accordingly and work with your nutritionist to do that, always making sure that you've got a lot of plenty of clean fresh sources of water there available for the cows,” said Tracey Erickson, SDSU Extension dairy field specialist.
The heat came on so suddenly that some livestock, especially cattle, probably didn’t have time to acclimate.
“We're worried about temperature, we're worried about humidity, worried about wind speed and then the cloud cover,” said Russ Daly, SDSU Extension veterinarian.
He said producers need to provide shade and air movement. Ration changes and feeding later in the day also can help. However, performance will be impacted.
“In times of prolonged heat stress, then we can start to see those cattle really kind of go backwards,” he said.
Harstad said the heat can cause water quality issues for livestock on pasture. The drought and evaporation can make total dissolved solids and nitrate sulfate levels dangerous, plus the heat can cause blue-green algae blooms.
“Make sure water out there is quality water,” she said.
Hog gains also suffer in the heat; in confinement, good ventilation is a key to keeping the herd productive.
Optimism for recovery
While lack of moisture and a growing drought became a concern in the summer and fall of 2020, Harstad said it helped make for a pleasant harvest in 2020 and good planting conditions this spring.
“We got in timely for one of the first times in several years,” she said.
Jared Hagert grows corn, soybeans, wheat, navy beans and pinto beans near Northwood, N.D., and the warmer-than-normal temperatures have pushed the growing season along. But the late May frost hurt.
“One of the challenges we had this year was most of our navy beans were a little quick out of the ground. So we ended up having to replant a good portion of them because of frost damage,” he said.
The decision on whether to replant, or replant again in some cases, has been dependent on individual conditions. For those who decided not to replant soybeans, Hans Kandel, NDSU Extension agronomist, has good news. In one field, he said he lost about 50% of plants to the frost, and the remaining plants were under stress from frost damage as well as heat and lack of moisture.
But, he said, if those 50% of remaining plants survive, he expects them to bush out and put on more beans per plant than they otherwise would have. Rather than yield reductions of 50%, he wouldn’t be surprised if the reductions were more like 10-20%, which could be a better scenario than replanting and waiting on entirely new plants to take off.
Looking for the silver lining in the dark cloud of strange conditions is not unusual for producers in the region.
“Well, I mean, we are the forever optimists, right?” said Dynneson Larson. “We’re always one day closer to rain and one day closer to nicer weather.”