A March 13 blizzard buried much of the Dakotas and parts of western Minnesota. This storm was on top of an already record-breaking or near-record snowfall in February in those three states. As spring arrived (or tried to arrive), snow remained throughout most of those areas where farmers continue to wait to ready their fields for spring wheat planting.
While North Dakota and northwest Minnesota farmers have final insurance plant dates of May 31 and June 5, South Dakota final plant dates are May 5 and May 15. During the week ended April 5, I asked farmers and elevator managers if anyone is panicking as the final plant clocks tick away.
Tregg Cronin of Gettysburg, South Dakota, told me via email that there has been zero progress in his area yet, and he doesn't believe that many acres are planted in the entire state. "West of the river, things were getting close at the end of this week with some farmers probably willing to turn a wheel, but the incoming rain/snow at midweek will probably have most holding off," said Cronin. If the forecast holds, most of the state will be receiving another 0.50 to 1.50 inches of moisture in the form of rain/snow. With soil profiles already full across the state, this will not go into the soil and keep any drying progress which has been made on hold."
Cronin said that prior to this next round of moisture expected to begin around April 10, most farmers in north-central South Dakota were two weeks away from having fields ready to support equipment had the weather stayed nice. "For our farm, we will try to wait as long as possible before either declaring we can't plant or switching to something else because our crop rotations are that important to us," said Cronin. "This is not the case for everyone, as some farmers in the southern part of the state have already said their spring wheat planting intentions have switched. To be clear, they are more in winter wheat country than spring wheat country, but this is the second year in a row they have foregone plans to put HRS in the ground.
"The same is true even in more northern locales, as producers in my county have indicated they will be paring back intentions or even switching away altogether. For the second year in a row, I think we will see more soybean acres among producers who had ideas to plant spring wheat but just aren't able to get in the field early enough. As we saw last year, even with a full moisture profile, there is still yield drag on the spring wheat, which gets planted because of the month of lost growing season. Because of the yield drag we saw last year due in part to late planting, producers will be more prone to make the switch earlier or opt to take prevent plant if things stay wet into May."
In northeastern South Dakota, snow has been melting quite a bit the last few weeks and is pretty much gone out of the fields now, but there are still some large piles and drifts that will take another couple weeks to melt, according to Ryan Wagner, Roslyn, South Dakota. "There will probably be a few less total acres around here this year due to the fact that we went into winter pretty well saturated, so all the potholes are about as full as they have ever been," said Wagner. "Nobody is pushing the panic button just yet because last year we seeded wheat right up to the May 15 crop insurance late plant date and everything turned out fine, so we are comfortable waiting if we have to. That said, it's pretty much just the diehards left that are going to seed spring wheat anyway, so those of us that plan on seeding some will likely stick to the plan."
Wagner noted that it can be surprising how quickly things warm up and dry out, and if he had to take a guess as to when seeding would start, he thinks air seeders could roll as soon as April 15 to 20 on lighter ground. However, he said he is probably looking at more like April 25 to May 1 where he farms. "At that point, guys will be itching to plant corn, so wheat might be the odd man out for those on the fence. One other complicating factor is how little fertilizer was applied last fall. I'm hearing as little as 25% of the normal acres got fertilizer last fall. There is always a lot of spring application as well, but everyone is gearing up for an extremely hectic spring.
"The flip side is that this leaves a lot of acres that can be easily flipped to soybeans if needed. If given the choice, my guess is guys would apply fertilizer then go straight into planting corn and soybeans rather than delay both corn and soybean planting any further by trying to squeeze some wheat in there. Once field conditions are ready, it's going to be tough for the fertilizer applicators to stay ahead of the corn planters especially if we have a quick warm up," said Wagner.
"We are 10 to 14 days away from significant fieldwork here, but there is a bit of dry fertilizer application starting," said Todd Yeaton, shuttle facility manager in Kimball, South Dakota, located in the southeastern part of the state. "Best gauge here for things is the ice has just gone off the Missouri River. Spring wheat acres are being reconsidered, as are pulse and oats crops. We get hot and dry that 'smokes' spring wheat and oats. Hard red winter wheat here is kind of getting green and have not heard of significant winter kill yet."
Matthew Morog, merchandising manager at CHS Midwest Cooperative in west-central South Dakota said that it is still very wet in his area. "Fields with heavy residue up until the past couple days were 50% covered. It will be another 20 days or better until we plant any spring wheat (barring any more moisture). Central South Dakota is going to lose a significant amount of acres due to planting delays and prices. Acres will shift to corn and millet."
Allan Klain of Turtle Lake, North Dakota, said: "No panic here! We have kept busy repairing equipment and cleaning seed. We are looking at 10-plus days away from seeding bean ground to wheat. Snow is mostly gone around here. Jamestown and east has had way more snow than we had all season. Nobody is panicking, just happy our temps are warmer than last year, adding to a much easier calving season!" Turtle Lake is located about 50 miles north of Bismarck, North Dakota.
Heading to the southeastern part of the state, Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy LLC in Enderlin, North Dakota, said: "It's plenty wet for now. Once all the drains are open and the frost goes out, it may not look too bad. Over 50% of the snow in the fields has melted, and with the April 6 weekend forecast for 50 to 60 temps, the fields should be snow free by the end of the weekend. Then, we will just need to deal with the snowdrifts in the tree belts.
"We are at least three weeks from any fieldwork. We were looking at a 5% increase in spring wheat acres but that's losing ground now," Brandt said. "Farmers want to put more small grain acres into their rotation for weed control, use of cover crops, tiling and/or getting some harvest done earlier. A lot of decisions on planting will be made when the planter gets to the field."
Cory Tryan, grain department manager in charge of grain marketing and logistics at Alton Grain Terminal Hillsboro, North Dakota, said there is spotty snow left in fields around there, and they are seeing some overland flooding. Hillsboro is located between Fargo and Grand Forks where water was reported along the edge of the roadway on Interstate 29 near there. The National Weather Service reported that level of the Red River at East Grand Forks was at 39.8 feet on April 8 and is forecast to rise about another 10 feet by the end of the week.
"We probably had 40% of harvest done in the snow, so those fields weren't worked and will be a bit later as far as planting," said Tryan. "We shouldn't be any later than last year, and some ground will go earlier. I would think we'll get in on some ground by May 1, and the majority of this area should get planted in May without any big moisture events."
Tim Dufault, Crookston, Minnesota, told me: "Most northwest Minnesota fields are still snow covered; rivers are still ice covered. There is little water moving in the ditches. Days have been in the low 30s and it goes back below freezing at night. Depending on the weather going forward, it looks like we may not be in the fields by May 1."
Jeff Mortenson, Kennedy, Minnesota, noted that it is still quite snow covered in his area. As for starting planting, he said, "It will be awhile. This weekend is supposed to warm up, but maybe some rain too, so that will change things. However, if I had to guess right now, I think it won't be until May. We started servicing one tractor today but can't get to the cultivator because it's under a lot of snow. The air seeder is in the shed with snow banks around the doors. No real rush feeling at all yet."
Back in South Dakota, Cronin said: "With the lower spring insurance price guarantee versus last year, I don't think you will see folks pushing the final plant date of May 5 in southern South Dakota and May 15 in the northern half of the state, and certainly not planting beyond it like we did last year. Wheat likes a long, cool fill period, and when 30 days is removed from the growing season, it is just plain difficult to reach maximum head fill unless July and the first half of August turns off well below normal on temps. Not something you can usually count on in South Dakota!"
North Dakota obviously has much more time than South Dakota does, but another week of wetness will have producers in the southern parts of the state having the same conversation, noted Cronin. "I was skeptical we would see the kind of acre drop the USDA implied on the Prospective Plantings report versus a year ago, but that kind of drop or more might become a reality if the weather holds.
"We will need to wait and see how much moisture we get in order for a better assessment, but it is difficult to believe anyone in the state will be seeding spring wheat before Easter," said Cronin. "Last year on our operation, we started planting spring wheat on April 26. This was almost a month late, but we were finished by May 3 thanks to ideal seeding conditions once things broke loose. If the aforementioned rain occurs, we could be on a similar timetable as last year."
"No visible signs of panic by growers yet in my area," added Dufault. "Growers remember the last two springs; both of those planting seasons started off late and yet the crops still yielded above average."
Once again, the 2019 spring wheat planting season will rely on the kindness of Mother Nature, which hasn't been in the best of moods lately.
Here is link to the NOAA National Forecast Maps: https://www.weather.gov/…
Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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