The spring planting season has begun in southwest North Dakota.
County extension agents and farmers south of Dickinson said fertilizing and seeding of fields is slowly starting throughout the area thanks to a mix of warm temperatures, dry conditions and general anxiousness.
“Right now, everybody is tickled,” said Duaine Marxen, Hettinger County’s extension agent.
But it isn’t full-speed-ahead quite yet, farmers said.
“We’re kind of piddling along here,” said Terry Kirschemann, who farms near Regent. “We need another week of temperatures before we can get into the heavier stuff.”
Kirschemann said most of his ground is too wet to seed, though some stubble fields are drier.
The early spring weather that has helped farmers so far isn’t all sunshine. The National Weather Service is predicting a mix of snow and rain from Easter Sunday night through Tuesday morning. That could slow down the early planting season, Marxen said.
“The warm weather is helping out, but we haven’t had enough,” he said.
The Mott-based extension agent said he knows plenty of farmers who are in the field, adding he has seen multiple fields planted on the drive along Highway 8 toward Hettinger.
Julie Kramlich, Adams County’s extension agent in Hettinger, said more farmers in her county are fertilizing fields than seeding.
“People are picking the fields that are drier and starting with those,” she said.
Kurt Froelich, Stark County’s extension agent, said he hasn’t heard of any planting happening north of the Hettinger County line, though he added that farmers are “getting antsy.”
That’s because the early warm weather is a welcome change to farmers, who didn’t get into fields last year until late April, at the earliest. Most farmers near Dickinson didn’t begin planting until mid-May last year, Froelich said.
“It’s been a battle the past few years trying to get in,” said Jim Erickson, who farms east of New England.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Tuesday that North Dakota farmers plan to seed slightly more spring wheat and durum than in previous years — 1 and 4 percent more, respectively — and plant 31 percent more sunflowers.
“The last two years, you could hardly put spring wheat in,” Marxen said.
Tom Zahn, a seed salesman from New England, said he believes sunflower numbers may be up because they present a better cash-flow option than small grains such as wheat and durum.
While Zahn’s sunflowers sales are up, he said “we’re not seeing a monster increase.” He said he thinks most of the additional sunflower acres will be planted in eastern North Dakota.
Erickson said he plans to seed about 500 acres of sunflowers this year. That, he said, is about the average amount he plants based on his crop rotation.
“I’m putting on fertilizer ahead of where I’m going to have corn and sunflowers,” he said. “… It’s working good. We get done with this, I’ll probably go right into planting wheat.
Near Mott, Marxen said he spoke with a farmer who was in the field much of the day Monday.
“In Hettinger County, people are smiling at the fact that they can go ahead and get started,” he said.
But Marxen said that some farmers also told him that he was in the field until he got stuck in wet soil.
“Don’t think for a second that things are perfect,” Marxen said with a laugh.