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Will a Late Start to Planting Affect Expected Spring Wheat Planted Acres?

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Spring field operations are finally underway in northwestern Minnesota after late snowfall and cold caused delays in spring planting. (Photo by Marlene Dufault, MLD Communications, Crookston, Minn.)

Spring came late this year as snow and cold temperatures stalled planting of the wheat that bears its name. Farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and northwest Minnesota had no choice but to wait for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw, as the calendar days for planting slipped away.

During the past week, I reached out to farmers and elevator managers in South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota, asking if they have started planting and if the late start may change spring wheat planting intentions in their area.

In its March 29 Planting Intentions report, USDA forecast that spring wheat acres would increase 15%. But as of April 30, spring wheat planted in North Dakota was at 3%, behind 17% last year and 22% for the five-year average, according to NASS. Minnesota spring wheat planted was reported as only 2% complete, compared with 20% last year, and the five-year average of 34%. In South Dakota, the state furthest behind, spring wheat planted was 12%, well behind 83% last year and 63% for the five-year average.


Jerry Cope, who does the grain marketing for Dakota Mill and Grain Inc. in Rapid City, South Dakota, told me that, "Six months ago, spring wheat intentions were low in western South Dakota with projected year-over-year declines. Intentions spiked along with the price spike to over $6.00 on the board. The late spring had many nervous that they would not get all the spring wheat planted as wanted.

"A late warmer and drier trend, along with fields working well over the last 10 days, has been accompanied by a late surge of spring wheat plantings ahead of the May 5 insurance cutoff in South Dakota. Four out of five farmers I talk to indicate they got all the spring wheat planted that they wanted, and seed sellers said they also saw a late surge in calls for seed wheat. The insurance cutoff date for spring wheat is May 5 in southern South Dakota and May 15 to the north."

On May 3, Ryan Wagner of Wagner Farms in Roslyn, South Dakota, said, "Corn acres planted might be more than wheat acres seeded by the end of the day. Wheat is on hold because the soybean stubble is too wet with frost still coming out. Wheat stubble with grazed cover crop is nice and dry, mellow and warm enough to plant."

Wagner went on to say, "It looks like we're on hold on wheat for a few days and will work on corn on this wheat stubble/cover crop tomorrow. Very little activity in my immediate area so far this week, but plenty of fieldwork being done in the James River valley to my west and the Minnesota River valley to my east. I'm guessing things will really start to ramp up this weekend, though; the forecast looks good for a solid week out, so we should be in good shape."

Wagner reported back on Saturday, May 5, and said he was back to wheat while the corn planter sits. "Monday we will get both rigs going and try to spray some burndown as well. Next week will be a very busy week around here."

Tim Luken, manager Oahe Grain in Onida, South Dakota, told me that his farmers started planting spring wheat there on April 27. "Warm 80-degree, windy weather has helped dry things out this past weekend, and it will be balls to the wall, go, go, go from here out," said Luken. "I have not heard of any spring wheat abandonment due to late spring yet, because it doesn't take long to plant with the equipment they have these days. I would say, weather permitting, in the next 10 days, spring wheat will be in. Farmers will go right into corn followed by beans and sunflowers.

"The winter wheat is greening up very nicely, and I do not see any winter kill in the area this year. Should be a year of no issues for crop adjusters to zero-out fields this year. Both topsoil and subsoil moisture has been recharged, and as of now, looks to be in good shape. I did talk to a famer on Tuesday and he said he was done with spring wheat (1,900 acres) and is now planting corn."

Insurance final plant dates in South Dakota are May 5 for the southern part of the state and May 15 for the northern area. Dates are specific to the location of each county in the state.


Tim Dufault, who farms in Crookston, Minnesota, told me on May 2 that spring planting had finally begun in the Red River Valley. "It is a later-than-usual starting date after the eighth coldest April on record, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Once the snow finally went away, the ground has dried up quickly and allowed field work to begin just about everywhere in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. We started seeding April 28, about seven days later than normal. With cooperative weather and no more breakdowns, we could finish spring wheat seeding by May 8. This would still be a favorable planting window to achieve good wheat yields.

"As of right now, I don't know of any acres switching crops. If we should get a prolonged weather delay in the first week or two of May, I think wheat and corn acres would quickly switch to soybeans," Dufault said.

Brian Kjesbo, who farms in Wendell, Minnesota, in the west-central part of the state told me on May 4 that, "For spring wheat, I'd say seedings are over 50% complete in our area with many now transitioning into corn and sugar beet planting. There have been a number of positive factors supporting spring wheat acres thru the winter. Sugar beet cooperatives are pushing for a return to spring wheat prior to beets for quality, weed and disease management. In addition, the combination of really strong yields, quality, and price last year for eastern spring wheat growers encouraged folks to look at a return to wheat. However, the later-than-ideal spring has pulled some intended acres back away from wheat in recent weeks."

On May 3, Danny Pinske, manager of Pro-Ag Farmers' Cooperative in Hoffman, Minnesota, told me, "We are just starting to go in this area. Some corn planted and some wheat on the lighter soils. If the weather holds, it will be balls to the walls this weekend! Still hearing wheat acres will be up a small amount. I am wondering if there will be a few more corn acres at the current price level. Maybe taking from beans? Planting weather is the key for the upcoming week."

Insurance final plant dates in Minnesota are May 15 for the southern part of the state, May 31 for the middle, central part of the state, and June 5 for the northern area. Dates are specific to the location of each county in the state.


Mark Rohrich of Rohrich Farms in Ashley, North Dakota, told me on April 30 that he had just started planting. "We will plan on moving forward with the acres planned, and in the area, I think for now, most people are at the same feeling at least until May 15 or so. Chance of rain tonight, but it looks like decent weather in the near term, so things should move along. Still some water in spots that I think the frost is holding up."

"Getting a good start on spring wheat," Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy LLC in Enderlin, North Dakota, said on May 2. "Still dealing with frost in the ground that's preventing some field work, and I see that going away by early in the week. No corn or soybeans planted in our area. Some corn will be planted by the weekend with the big push next week."

An elevator manager in eastern North Dakota told me on May 2 that not much was done the first half of this week like he thought could be. "Planting stage is like only 5% on grains and 10% on beets yet. Not a lot of ground is ready around our trade area," he said. "Fertilizer spreading is at a snail's pace and hoping by the weekend, a lot more will be ready to go. It's pretty hard to say it'll go in at Mach speed with the fertilizer spreading unable to keep up to it."

He mentioned that they had rain last Monday night through Tuesday morning all around his area, but amounts varied. The Fargo area only received one-tenth of an inch but a half-inch just north, northeast of Fargo. "West of here, like Clifford up through Reynolds to Grand Forks, was a swath of an inch. My area only saw four-tenths of an inch," he noted. "The dirt was really moving on Sunday night, so rain was needed. It's amazing how quickly that top inch or so went powder dry, yet just below that it's too wet to go on yet. It was pretty fortunate rain, especially for those in central North Dakota that got a good shot coming off the dryness last year. Frost is coming out and this rain will speed that up and hold the blowing dirt for a day or two."

The eastern North Dakota elevator manager told me that farmers will get the crop planted, most likely in the next 10-to-14 days. "However, due to rotations and which ground is ready first, they will be jumping around on what's being planted to start with. The concern will quickly be issues with overly dry topsoil. It's not all going to be planted quick enough to beat how quick the seed beds will get to dry. No doubt there will be some issues with germination in some areas and very likely dirt will continue to blow out. Up north in the northeast corner of North Dakota, they are about 40% done with beets with some having most of their wheat planted, but there is also talk of how dry the topsoil is. On the hill to the west in the Langdon area, they are the same stage as us -- barely able to start yet," he concluded.

Over in the north-central part of the state, Jeff Kittell, merchandiser for Border Ag and Energy in Russell, North Dakota, told me, "Our area is just getting into full swing at this point, and I don't see any acres being switched. The biggest problem we are seeing right now is the availability of NH3 because everywhere in the state hit the fields at the same time and there are just not enough trucks and hours to keep up with demand to load farmers' tanks."

Out in the northwestern part of state in Parshall, 60 miles from Minot, Blase Hendrickson said, "We just wrapped up this evening (May 3) with spring wheat. We have not changed any acres or plans for the year yet in terms of spring wheat. For our area, guys are just getting started in general, but no one seems to be in a rush; I'd swear everyone thinks it's April 3 and not May 3. However, there are lots of wet areas still in fields and the ground is still quite cold, so that might have something to do with it."

Insurance final plant dates in North Dakota are May 31 for the southern half of the state and June 5 for the northern half. Dates are specific to the location of each county in the state.


"Overall, planting progress has been very uneven with some making great progress and others who haven't started yet," said Wendell, Minnesota, farmer Kjesbo. "The bottom line is less spring wheat than originally intended, but still up year on year. The underlying bearish nature of global wheat fundamentals, stronger-than-expected soybean prices, and positive outlook for corn prices also has tempered some wheat enthusiasm."

"Spring wheat acres will be down from NASS numbers in March," said Brandt, the Plains Grain and Agronomy LLC general manager. "We could see total spring wheat acres down 250,000-to-300,000 acres. I'd say the biggest drop would be in South Dakota and the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota."

"It's hard to believe only two weeks ago, we had blizzard conditions with snow from 6 inches to 19 inches. And today, May 2, it is 80 degrees. Crazy weather," said Oahe Grain manager Luken.

Finally, given the severe drought conditions in North and South Dakota last summer, Hendrickson, the Parshall, North Dakota farmer, summed up what is most critical this year in those states: "We are going to need very timely and ample rains this year to have a good crop."

Here is a link to USDA weekly statistics by state crop progress reports:…. The next report is due out on Monday, May 7, and will show planting progress through Sunday, May 6.

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