This past week and the upcoming week are crucial for farmers intending to plant corn in Stutsman County, according to Alicia Harstad, Stutsman County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

"These weeks will be telling," she said. "Any rain would prompt farmers to consider changes from corn and wheat."

Changing crops is not easy decision, according to Frayne Olson, associate professor of agriculture at North Dakota State University. Olson said the economic decisions on whether to change crops or claim prevented planting under crop insurance "vary significantly from operator to operator."

"There are lots of decisions and lots of factors involved," he said. "At this stage of the game farmers are looking at what fields are available and what chemicals were put down last fall."

For example, chemicals applied in the fall in anticipation of planting corn the next spring could eliminate planting soybeans in the field, Olson said. Fields fertilzed for corn in the fall for corn may still be able to grow soybeans the next year but the expense of the fertilizer would be wasted.

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Olson said farmers considering their options this spring should start by consulting an agronomist with their seed dealer. It might be possible to switch to another variety of seed that matures earlier and will work better with a late planting date. The agronomist could also help determine if there are any problems with chemicals already applied.

"They should also talk to their crop insurance agent to make sure they know the critical final planting dates for crops in their county," Olson said.

Crop insurance regulations set a final planting date for each crop specific to each county. Insurance benefits for crops planted after that date are reduced by 1% for each day for the first 15 days and then a higher percentage after that, Olson said.

If they can't get into the field, crop insurance does offer a prevented planting benefit, Olson said.

"Prevented plant is not a full crop insurance payment," he said. "It is not a money maker by any means, it just minimizes losses."

Harstad said some farmers may consider planting specialty crops rather than the standard wheat, corn or soybeans.

"You probably want to have a contract to sell," she said. "That way there is less risk."

Sunflowers are one potential specialty crop in this area although many farmers have shied away from the crop because of potential blackbird damage, Harstad said.

Olson said many farmers have also looked to dry edible beans as a potential crop because prices were relatively high for the commodity over the winter.

"The biggest challenge now is finding seed," he said, "and a contract to sell is recommended."