The same fields that were being harvested on this day last year are lusher today in most parts of southwest North Dakota, and most are just barely showing signs of ripening.
Despite late planting and below-average July temperatures — including one overnight when southwest North Dakota neared frost-like conditions — grain crops in the area look good and have producers anxiously hoping the weather cooperates for another three to four weeks until it’s ready to harvest.
“It’s the old, ‘You never know until it’s in the bin,’” Scranton Equity grain manager Mike Wedwick said. “But things look good.”
Chris Binstock, an agronomist for CHS Inc., said winter wheat in the area could be as close as 10 days away from harvesting whereas spring wheat and durum, which he said both look exceptional, look like they will be ready toward the end of August.
“The early stuff looks phenomenal,” Binstock said, pointing to the crops planted before late May and early June when southwest North Dakota received a healthy dose of rain. “The later stuff, it’s coming along, but it’s not going to be near what the other stuff is.”
Binstock, and just about everyone else in the industry, said it’s now all about holding on and hoping August doesn’t bring thunderstorms and potentially devastating hail.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said Monday that most producers are pleased with what they see in the fields. However, he said they also don’t want to say too much, fearful they’ll jinx what could be a very good year for yields.
“A lot of people are very careful about what they’re saying,” he said with a laugh.
Bill Abeling, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said farmers may be pleased with the forecast for August.
The long-range forecast for the month in western North Dakota calls for continued below-average temperatures and average precipitation, though Abeling said he wouldn’t discount a few days in the 90s.
“That would ripen up stuff fairly quickly,” Abeling said.
Binstock said most crops south of Interstate 94 avoided the hail and severe winds from July storms that wiped out some crops between Killdeer and Hebron.
However, he said the damage was spotty.
“Over by Marshall when I was there last week, there was a field of winter what completely gone,” Binstock said. “A mile and a half north of it? Totally fine.”
When it comes to small grain prices, Wedwick said they aren’t exactly what producers with potential bumper crops want to see.
“Prices have fallen off fairly dramatically from where we were a year ago,” Wedwick said, adding that the world market is driving down prices. “I think there were people who thought that the prevented plant acres in North Dakota may turn things around. At this point, it certainly hasn’t.”
While the small grains look good, Binstock said there are some worries about corn and oil crops such as sunflowers and canola.
Canola, which should be ready to harvest within the month, is not as healthy of a crop as it has been in recent years.
“A lot of the canola looks tough,” Binstock said. “We’re not going to see a bin-buster of a year with canola. We’re going to see some decent yields out there. The growers out there know that. It’s just not going to be what guys want.”
Corn and sunflowers, Binstock said, are touch and go because of the below-average temperatures the area experienced throughout late July.
“We’re starting to get a little nervous with corn and flowers,” he said, adding both crops will need frost-free August and September to make the yields producers want to see.