Drowning in Spring: Large swatch of southwest cropland left unseeded due to wet season

A farmer sprays a field south of Dickinson on Thursday. Some fields in southwest North Dakota are in the stage where farmers can spray them. Other potential cropland is still waiting to be planted — as much as 25 percent in Hettinger County.

MOTT — As much as 25 percent of cropland in parts of southwest North Dakota remains unseeded due to wet conditions that have lingered since late May.

Duaine Marxen, the North Dakota State University extension agent for Hettinger County, said Wednesday the cropland that is seeded is doing well, but unplanted ground will be difficult for farmers to even access without a significant drying-out period.

“In order to get that last 25 percent done, we’re going to need a week, a week and a half, and it’s gotta be warm and dry in order to get it in,” Marxen said.

Dickinson had its fourth-wettest May in recorded history with 6.18 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Areas around Dickinson received similar precipitation totals. Cities south of Interstate 94 reported more than that during late-May storms.

The wettest May on record in the Dickinson area was 2013, when it received 8.23 inches. However, by then most farmers had the majority of their land seeded and the timely rainfall led into a solid year for crop production.

This year was different. A deep ground frost, caused by a long and extremely cold winter, kept farmers out of fields until early May. Though they were able to get most of their crops seeded, constant rainfalls in late May — more than 2½ inches at a time were reported south of Dickinson — saturated unseeded fields.

Now, farmers are left with decisions to make. They could turn to prevented planting insurance, till fields for summer fallow or seed a row crop that can withstand summer and fall growing conditions.

“I’m recommending guys put something there,” Marxen said. “A lot of these fields, you’re not going to get a crop.

“I don’t really know if there’s a right or wrong answer as to what that might be.”

Marxen said soybeans — not typically a crop planted in southwest North Dakota — have become a viable option for farmers, “especially with the amount of moisture we got.”

But it comes with the caveat that farmers can even get equipment into the fields they have left to plant, he said.

On Wednesday, Marxen said he spoke to a Mott farmer who buried his pickup truck in an unplanted field while surveying it. He had to pull the vehicle out with his four-wheel drive tractor.

“What fields you see now, they had a tough time even attempting to get something into them and now it’s almost impossible,” Marxen said.

Soybeans and sunflowers can be planted as late as the first week of July, CHS Inc. agronomist Chris Binstock said. Many farmers are now in a position they rarely find themselves in — hoping for a reprieve from the rain, he added.

“I’ve seen beans planted up to the Fourth of July into that time frame and they did just fine,” Binstock said. “It depends on how the rest of our year is going to be. But to have something in there, it’s not a bad option.

“To have something in there, it’s not a bad option. Something is better than nothing.”

An alternative to collecting prevented planting insurance could simply be seeding grass for hay, said Dwight Aakre, the North Dakota State University Extension Service farm management specialist. “The net income from the hay may be as much or more than the prevented-planting payment, less the cost of putting a cover crop on prevent-planted acres,” Aakre said in a release.

Still, those eyeing row crops, such as soybeans or sunflowers, as an alternative for acres they had hoped to use for wheat may find themselves even more at the mercy of Mother Nature than in the past month. Soybeans and sunflowers need a good amount of rainfall and temperatures that are not overly hot in August and September, Marxen said.

Michael Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said long-range forecasts for the southwest corner of North Dakota call for above-normal precipitation and normal temperatures. Still, Mathews said nothing is certain.

“With how spotty rainfall is, it’s still hard to tell,” he said

Most wheat crops that are in the ground are entering the stem extension stages, and spraying herbicides is underway. Though even that too is difficult when sprayers can’t get in the field.

“It’s becoming a big problem, because not only is it wet out … the planes we’ve hired are pretty busy,” Binstock said.

Binstock said no matter what brand of sprayer he has seen in fields this spring, they’ve all been the same color — “brown with mud.”

“A lot of guys are spinning throughout the whole field,” he said. “That’s not good for anybody.”

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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