It was a rough spring for many farmers in North Dakota after a crippling blizzard affected central and eastern North Dakota and the Red River Valley from Thursday, Oct. 10, to Saturday, Oct. 12, right in the middle of corn harvest. The winter started early and continued to be unkind to that area and northwest Minnesota into April 2020, with the snow burying the 2019 corn. Then, when it came time to plant spring crops, fields were too soft to plant or finish the 2019 corn harvest in those areas.
Shaun McCoy, who farms in western Grand Forks County, southwest of Larimore, told me on June 17, "I bet 30% of the intended corn acres in eastern North Dakota/western Minnesota got planted. Most of us around here, and pretty much anyone with corn stubble, had some prevented planting (PP), not counting areas in other fields that were too wet. I would say 60% to 80% planted crop is a good average for the Red River Valley. It got so late and a lot of the ground wasn't quite fit to work, so now stands in every crop are lacking. On top of that, there is a lot of soil crusting from heavy rains last weekend. It's really just a mess."
Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy in Enderlin, North Dakota, told me on June 17, "The biggest hit was planted acres of corn. Probably 40% to 50% of last year. Some big crop producing counties in eastern North Dakota are the same. Prevented planting is too attractive and you shouldn't have corn to combine next May or June. The market is also driving the interest towards PP.
"We are still struggling to harvest some 2019 corn, between getting stuck and trying to pick up this downed corn from the storms on June 8 and 9. We need a normal to below normal precipitation pattern for a while to get this unplanted ground back into condition, especially if the road is not washed out so you can get to it. 2020 is not a banner year for southeast North Dakota," added Brandt.
Mark Rohrich, Ashley, North Dakota, said, as of the middle of last week there were still mostly soybeans and some sunflowers going in. "Still wet fields but some have quit based on the calendar dates. We will get seeded to 55% to 60% of our acres. I have heard from 40% to 60% PP in areas in conversations. This is unprecedented, unheard of, and disappointing. It is the wrath of the fall of 2019. Some 2019 harvest still trying to wrap up in the area too and, while it's still wet, everything seeded will need rain. What a year."
Cory Tryan, grain department manager at Alton Grain Terminal LLC in Hillsboro, North Dakota, told me he didn't have anything for actual acreage or PP yet for east-central North Dakota, but his farmers are done with planting. "Soybean acreage is similar to last year to up 5%. Our area looks like 35% to 40% of the corn was planted and the rest was PP. The beets were all planted and other grain like edible beans and sunflowers, that can be planted later, are up. Barley acreage was down double digits."
Tryan reminded me May 25 was the end of corn planting and the last week of May was it for spring wheat planting. "Some beans were planted mid-May and into the week of June 8. We had three rain events that ended the chance at seeing more corn being planted and delayed the bean planting. We got really wet around May 5 when we couldn't stand to have any moisture on these fields, then again on May 9 and May 13. Some fields are still too wet in spots with combines and carts getting stuck here and there as they finish up harvesting what corn was still left standing this spring. What was about 10% left is getting close to being done now thanks to recent heat and high winds."
Darrin Schmidt, who farms in eastern North Dakota, said, "We're down on all acres over intentions, except sunflowers. Later crops, like edibles and soybeans, for us had a chance of getting planted but we had to get 2019 corn off first. With that being the challenge, we just ran out of time. We started planting on May 18, stopped on the insurance date of June 15. Not even a month but felt a lot longer than that.
"I got around 80% of my crop in and the other 20% will be PP. We have fields that will be PP because they were too wet and areas of fields that will be PP. Early planting of corn and wheat on some fields were the hills we could get to and worked up decently, so we could PP the rest as it was too wet to plant or seed. The eastern side of North Dakota to the middle has had troubles and there will be PP; more than usual. The middle to western side, I think, has a good start, but some areas are starting to get dry out west. It all depends on how wet you were last fall, I think."
Matthew Krueger, East Grand Forks, Minnesota, said, "So we came into February, honestly thinking it might be an early spring because it was really warming up and getting nice out. Then March hit and we got dumped on with snow. And then we got more snow in April, and then it just didn't warm up. We only got in 5% of the planned corn and put the rest in PP to max our acres (which is over 20% of the farm), and then shifted a lot more acres into wheat and soybeans. We doubled our planned wheat acres and beans were increased over 50%. We honestly didn't really start rolling smoothly until around May 25. The crops were definitely seeded in not the most ideal conditions. It was dry on top, but still very wet below."
Krueger said it was difficult to close seed trenches and then any tracks from tillage to get the fields to dry out had horrible seed-to-soil contact due to just the soil kind of clumping. "Honestly there aren't a ton of great-looking fields around. Fields that had tile on them, you can tell -- they look great and were the first to get seeded and also didn't have that abnormally high-water table below to cause issues with spring tillage. We managed to catch some rain the first week in June, which helped get any seed that was sitting in dry soil (yes there was actually that happening) or where seed trenches had opened up and left seed just sitting there get germinated and growing.
"Lots of guys with beets really worked hard to get those in ASAP; stands are not great, beets will compensate, but it's best to get a stand of 170-200 per 100 feet to maximize yield, sugar and harvestability. Lots of headlands have 30% to 40% of that stand goal, and fields, I'm hearing, after the rain are getting better -- but again, you have beets that are 10 to 14 days ahead of others and it can cause issues in letting those later beets get very big as they will be squeezed by their 'big brothers' in the row," added Krueger.
Tim Dufault, Crookston, Minnesota, said, "We were able to get everything seeded, but not everyone did. Soybean seeding wrapped up May 25, but the seedbed was wetter than I would have liked. A lot of last year's corn that was harvested this spring will be PP acres. The fields were OK to harvest, but too wet to till for and seed to a crop. My local ag retailer did have a lot of corn acres shifted to other crops. They had about 60,000 acres of corn seed booked this winter. They only loaded about 25,000 acres worth of seed this spring. With the late spring again this year, a lot of growers were having Deja vu of late harvest again."
Matt Undlin, Lansford, North Dakota, said, "We had a late start to our spring planting due to a wet fall in 2019 and a cool spring with the frost leaving late. Since then we have had very little moisture and had really good planting conditions. Corn and bean acres are definitely down in the area; seeing more wheat, durum and barley acres than I expected. In our county, there is an estimated 20% PP. For as poor of conditions we had just prior to planting, we had real good days to get most of the crop in. Last year on this date (June 18) I had wheat in a drought heading out and this year I haven't applied herbicides yet. We are behind, but North Dakota long summer days will hopefully catch us up before frost."
"I got one-third of my wheat planted, less than a third of the corn planted, and around three-fourths of my soybeans planted," said Kerry Baldwin, Hope, North Dakota. "We will have around 50% of our acres PP this year. I've farmed for 40 years and never had more than 30 or 40 acres ever in PP. In my area there is probably close to 65% of corn acres that didn't get planted."
WHAT'S UP (OR DOWN) WITH SPRING WHEAT ACRES
On June 17, I asked North Dakota Wheat Commission's Policy and Marketing Director Jim Peterson how it looked in North Dakota for spring wheat planting, especially after the delays in some parts of the state this past spring. He said as far as acreage outlook for North Dakota spring wheat, "It is a tale of two extremes."
Peterson said there are notable drought concerns emerging across the western parts of the state and pockets of still wet areas in fields in the central to east-central parts of the state. "At this point, we are still leaning to a slight decline, maybe 3%, in hard red spring (HRS) wheat acres in North Dakota compared to last year. This is due to the fact of some PP acres in the wet pockets of North Dakota, and some move to durum from HRS in late April/early May in western parts of the state due to the steady value in durum and declining values for HRS during planting. From what I hear, Minnesota may actually end up near its level of HRS plantings last year, even though the March survey showed a decline. It seems they did not have as much struggle with PP acres as parts of North Dakota, and with the sharp drop in corn prices during April due to the collapse in oil and eventual shutdown of ethanol plants, there was renewed interest in HRS in late April and early May."
Peterson noted in western areas of the state, "we are hearing increased levels of HRS compared to last year in non-durum areas, but maybe not enough to offset planting challenges in areas of eastern North Dakota. However, I think the drier and warmer weather pattern in late May and early June, which is leading to the drought expansion in western areas now, ironically helped limit the level of potential PP acres in some of the wetter eastern areas. Still there are problem pockets. What I hear from analysts is that North Dakota PP acres will likely exceed a million acres compared to 850,000 last year, but still well below the 2.8 million to 3.5 million in PP in 2011 and 2013. Most of the PP acres will be corn acres, with a much smaller percentage of HRS."
Peterson said they saw a run on HRS seed in late April, similar to Minnesota, as producers moved away from corn. "But, maybe not all of the intended HRS acres at that time may have been planted. Still, HRS acres in North Dakota will be higher than the March survey of growers, which indicated about a 9% decline. I hear from some private analysts, that their data and contacts imply a year-to-year increase in HRS acres in North Dakota as well this year, simply due to a large shift out of corn, but I guess I am not totally in that camp; I am still leaning to a slight decline, but may be surprised. Market prices have not provided an incentive this year to push late planting, so in those areas where producers had to weigh pulling out very expensive equipment and mudding in $4.50 HRS, they probably opted for PP."
"We finished seeding HRS May 16, about two weeks later than I would like," said Dufault. "All of it was seeded into poor seedbeds. We didn't have the luxury to let them dry up first."
McCoy said spring wheat acres in his area are all over the board. "I would guess the acres are a bit above average, but the stands seem to be really variable. Also, a lot of wheat got planted pretty late because people backed out of corn and the soybean market wasn't the most appealing. A lot of spring wheat is in the tillering stage and we've been extremely hot and windy the last week. It's a poor combination, so that has me concerned."
I asked the Brandt and Tryan how many spring wheat acres got planted in their draw area. "We are looking at about two-thirds of the wheat got planted compared to 2019," said Brandt. "Once we got past May 10, we lost a lot of acres. There is too big of a yield reduction planting past May 10." Tryan added in his area, "spring wheat acres (mainly planted for beet rotations) are likely down 5%."
Schmidt told me, "I was planning on 250 acres of wheat. I put in 72 acres but it was almost June. Our farm was planning on 1,700 acres of wheat, we got about 1,100 acres in, I think, as I wasn't running the drill, so I don't know exact acres. It was really wet early. It really didn't dry out enough to plant in good conditions until June. The early wheat and corn have areas where it was too wet and it shows because those areas have a reduced stand or no stand at all in the wet/pushed areas."
Rohrich told me on June 17, "Plenty of wheat was left out of intentions. Seeding went on for the month of May. Even a little wheat just got seeded the last few days. Personally, we got half of our wheat intention in. Locally, I'd say somewhere around there to a little more depending on area. But not early seeded by any means."
Bryan Kenner, Maddock, North Dakota, told me, "I actually think most of the planned spring wheat in my area got planted. There is some PP, I'd guess 10% to 20%. Most of those acres came at the expense of corn or soybeans. People did seed their wheat and specialty crops (dry beans, peas, sunflowers, flax, etc.). We are better off than some areas, but there's plenty of crop that went into wet conditions."
"All in all, it's been a difficult spring along with a difficult fall," said Krueger. "I had a friend send me a snap of a guy in central North Dakota combining his corn with a soybean planter behind it and then the land roller behind that —- all in the same field on the same day at the same time! You hear that all over North Dakota happening in a section of land -- just insane. Now we are sitting on June 17 with the fourth day of just insane, nonstop winds with the temps well into the 90s each day. Plants don't appreciate these temps and winds, and are kind of getting beat up. Hopefully, by this weekend and next week, we go back to 'normal' which, who even knows what that is anymore."
Krueger added, "Lots of growers are tired, and tired of getting beat up. Talking to neighbors to let them know they are not alone in this is huge, and key. If guys are struggling, please reach out to someone to just talk it over, or if necessary get medical help. There should be no shame in asking for help, but we as farmers tend to feel we need to be independent and if we ask for help, we are weak and failures. That's bull. Farming is tough -- tougher than ever frankly."
Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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