Spring planting is still a non-event across Stutsman County and much of eastern North Dakota, according to Doug Goehring, North Dakota commissioner of agriculture.

"From (North Dakota) Highway 3 east, life is at a standstill," he said. "The soil is so saturated and the infrastructure is so wet. The township, county and even state highways are either underwater or so soft and saturated."

Dale Reimers, a Jamestown area farmer, said his farming operation had planted less than half a quarter section of land before wet conditions in the fields and on the roads shut them down.

"Even the roads that are open are saturated," he said. "You can't move around with modern farm equipment on the roads."

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Alicia Harstad, Stutsman County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said she had been optimistic about spring field conditions in March and April.

"Then it rains and has been cold," she said. "Now it is May 13 and not much fieldwork has been done."

Planting deadlines for full crop insurance coverage are approaching. According to the Risk Management Agency, corn must by planted by May 25, wheat by May 31 and soybeans by June 10 in Stutsman County for full insurance coverage.

Reimers said farmers who can't meet those deadlines because of wet conditions can claim the acres as "prevented plant."

"Prevented plant pays a percentage of the crop insurance," he said. "The only way to survive on that is to not spend a penny. That is going to be the name of the game this year. Not spending money."

Goehring said it is not just wet conditions contributing to an overall bleak outlook for North Dakota agriculture.

"Weather, markets and COVID are all plaguing the heartland," he said.

The coronavirus pandemic may reduce or eliminate the 1,800 seasonal farmworkers who normally come to North Dakota on an H-2A visa. In some cases, the countries they would travel from are under quarantine without transportation available to the United States.

Reimers, who has employed several H-2A employees on his farm in previous years, said there might not be work for them this year anyway.

Goehring said some aspects of the farm situation could improve.

"I still believe phase 1 of the China trade deal will happen," he said. "They have been purchasing old crop beans (soybeans) and corn. They may be in the market for the new crop this fall."

Localized meat processing may also see a boost in the post-pandemic world where consumers look for closer sources of their food.

Goehring said his department plans to announce in the next few weeks programs to aid in the inspection of state inspected and custom exempt slaughterhouses in North Dakota.

State inspected slaughterhouses are licensed to slaughter animals and process meat for sale to grocery and other stores that can then resell the meat. Custom exempt slaughterhouses can slaughter and process meat for the person who owns the animal and will utilize the meat.

Goehring categorized the program as aimed toward long-term economic recovery after the pandemic passes.

The combination of wet weather and the coronavirus has been frustrating to work through, Goehring said. Agriculture is considered an essential industry and the production of food is vital for the national interest. Better weather would help the North Dakota farmers meet that challenge.

"It would be nice to see some sunshine," he said.

Reimers said warm, dry weather was the key.

"One or two days of 80 degrees will just make us feel good," he said. "We need a couple of weeks to dry things out."