N.D. sees earliest starting date for field work on recordFarm field work began in earnest Monday in Grand Forks County as soils were dry, especially in sandier ground west and north of Larimore, N.D., said Terry Yahna, manager of the CHS Ag Services fertilizer plant in Larimore.
By: By Stephen J. Lee , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Farm field work began in earnest Monday in Grand Forks County as soils were dry, especially in sandier ground west and north of Larimore, N.D., said Terry Yahna, manager of the CHS Ag Services fertilizer plant in Larimore.
“We did a little last week, and today we had four or five of the people we deal with who are going,” he said. “So it’s starting. Not everybody yet, just in the sandier soils.”
Jesus Aleman was digging a field south of Larimore for Hoverson Farms, preparing it for potatoes. The soil was dry enough in many fields around Larimore that dirt was blowing and drifting, a different feel from last year’s late, wet start to the planting season.
Earliest start ever
The average starting date for field work in North Dakota this year was Tuesday, April 3 — the earliest since 1974, when the National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Fargo began tracking the date, according to Director Darin Jantzi.
The average start date going back about 20 years is April 21, and last year’s late start was pegged at May 7, Jantzi said.
Last week, Minnesota farmers put in 22 percent of the state’s spring wheat crop, up from 3 percent a week earlier, according to the NASS office in St. Paul; the five-year average for April 8 is only 1 percent planted.
Nearly half the state’s oats and 18 percent of the barley were planted by Sunday. Minnesota farmers had even seeded 1 percent of the expected record corn acres by Sunday.
North Dakota farmers had planted 17 percent of the state’s spring wheat by Sunday, up from 6 percent a week earlier. The five-year average is only 1 percent by April 8.
Durum wheat was 8 percent seeded and 7 percent of the state’s barley was in the ground, as field work conditions were nearly ideal last week, USDA said.
Fertilizer supplies are ample, Yahna said. But the same can’t be said for crop seed.
He said the expected big increase in corn acres — North Dakota farmers expect to seed 52 percent more acres to corn this year than last to a record total of 3.4 million acres, while Minnesota farmers also intend to seed a record amount of acres to corn — means tight supplies of seed.
“If you’re not covered for corn, you may not get any,” he said. “And guys have been holding off on planting corn because there’s no seed to replace it if it freezes.”
After last week’s ideal planting conditions, a drop in temperatures this week could prompt some hard freezes, which normally don’t hurt seeds in the soil.
A hard freeze warning was issued Monday for central and southern Minnesota in the pre-dawn hours of today and Wednesday. High temperatures are expected to only get into the 40s during the day.
One farmer watching the thermometer closely is Mike Bergeron. He and his farming partner, Jon Ross, began planting spring wheat on St. Patrick’s Day last month and finished their wheat planting last week.
That’s the earliest he’s ever seeded grain, and the wheat planted March 17 came up looking good, he said. “It’s a nice stand,” he said.
But now it’s up enough that the critical “growing point” of the plants is only about a half-inch below the surface of the soil. That could be high enough to get damaged if temperatures fall into the low 20s or even teens by early today or again Wednesday morning, he said. If that damage is enough, the plant’s future is nixed and he would have to re-seed.
“I’m going to keep my fingers crossed over the next two nights,” Bergeron said Monday. “And the ground is dry. I wish we had gotten some rain. That would have insulated the ground a little.”
The National Weather Service said it expects temperatures to fall to 20 to 25 degrees this morning across northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. By early Wednesday, it will be even colder, dipping down to 15 to 20 degrees.
“It’s when it gets to 18 to 20 degrees, it’s more nerve-wracking,” Bergeron said. “And the second night is usually worst than the first night,” he said, of damage from sub-freezing weather for plants.
Stephen Lee is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.