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Wayne Wagner operates a pull-behind sprayer Monday afternoon on a field of wheat he farms with his brothers near Crookston, Minnesota. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald

Wild weather hurting crops in some areas, while others closer to normal

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News Grand Forks,North Dakota 58203 http://www.grandforksherald.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/070814.N.GFH_.CROPUPDATE4.jpg?itok=tsIptq9S
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Wild weather hurting crops in some areas, while others closer to normal
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Crop conditions the northern Red River Valley are, in five words, “very, very, very, very varied.”

So says Brad Brummond, Walsh County agricultural extension agent.

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“We’ve got spring wheat that’s already heading out and we’ve got some that’s just emerging from the ground,” he said. “Some of that late crop is going to be a real challenge.”

And that’s within the same county.

The story is similar throughout much of the valley, with areas along the Canadian border among the hardest hit, the latest blow being golf ball- and baseball-size hail that devastated some fields in Pembina and Kittson counties, on either side of the Red River.

Farmers throughout most of the Northern Plains this year have dealt with late planting as the result of weather that was much cooler and wetter than normal. And in many areas, rainfall continued to be well above average through June.

The wet weather has implications not just for farmers, but on the broader regional economy, in which agriculture plays a major part.

In its latest report, North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network indicated the statewide average precipitation in June was 4.69 inches, the 20th wettest on record, and 1.35 inches wetter than the June average of 3.34 inches.

Some areas of Pembina County received as much as 2.5 inches of rain over the weekend, adding insult to potential injury for some farmers, according to County Extension Agent Samantha Lahman.

“It’s bad, not quite ugly. We should pull through,” she said of crops in general. “We have a lot of standing water in the fields. We just kind of pray it’ll dry out quick, so we can spray.”

Conditions are much better in Polk and Clearwater counties of Minnesota, according to Jim Stordahl, extension agent.

“It’s not perfect, but pretty good,” he said. “Farmers in both of those counties have to consider themselves fortunate, compared with the conditions in the extreme northwest counties and in the southwest.

“We’ve gone through two years of drought, so this is quite a change,” he added. “Right now, the greatest frustration is timely rain. For livestock producers, it’s hard to put up hay.”

Hit to Main Street

Brummond estimates prevented planting acreage — federal crop insurance producers can purchase to cover enrolled acreage if extreme weather conditions prevent planting by predetermined deadlines — to account for about 10 to 15 percent of cropland in Walsh County.

In Grand Forks County, the percentage could be 5 to 10 percent, County Agent Willie Huot said last week.

“This weekend, we had some beautiful weather, and a lot of the crops really bounced back,” said Michael Knudson, ag and natural resources extension agent in Grand Forks County. “We had heard of some farmers struggling to get their hay crop. But since Thursday, some good weather, it’s been really god for the crops.”

While it’s too early to tell what effect the weather might have on production at harvest, even at 10 or 20 percent yield reduction can have a significant impact on Main Street.

Consider that in 2012, the market value of crop and livestock sales in Grand Forks County totaled more than $430 million, according to the latest Census of Agriculture.

In Polk County, it was nearly $595 million. So, a 10 or 20 percent reduction in any year represents a significant impact on local economies.

“In general, agriculture is a huge economic contributor to this county and the Red River Valley in general,” Knudson said. “Especially in Grand Forks, we grow such a wide diversity of crops.”  

Statewide, North Dakota crop and livestock sales totaled $11.3 billion, while in Minnesota they totaled about $21.5 billion, according to the ag census.

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Kevin Bonham
Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: www.grandforksherald.com. He welcomes story ideas via email, kbonham@gfherald.com, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  
(701) 780-1110
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