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Into the fields: Farmers optimistic about planting after late start

Jason Thorson uses a grease gun on his 36-row sugar beet planter in the yard of the family farm Monday. Thorson farms with his brother, Chad Thorson, far left, in Polk County. The Thorson brothers started planting beets last Friday and say the start is a little later than usual but some years have been later. Austin Koenig, center, works for the Thorsons. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 3
East Grand Forks farmer Jason Thorson takes a look behind him as he works in a sugar beet field south of East Grand Forks early Monday. Thorson Farms raise sugar beets, wheat and edible beans in Polk County. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
From left; Austin Koenig, Gunnar Olson and Chad Thorson load sugar beet seed into a planter south of East Grand Forks. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

Red River Valley farmers are optimistic about getting crops in the ground after cold and wet conditions delayed them from hitting the fields.

Producers started planting crops this weekend in northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota, taking advantage of mild temperatures and drier conditions.

Chad Thorson of rural East Grand Forks started Friday and will plant soybeans, sugar beets, wheat and edible beans this season.

"Everybody is excited to get out of the shop and out of the yard and into the field," he said, adding conditions are good for seeding and the soil has enough moisture for planting.

Winter weather stretched into spring, bringing colder-than-normal temperatures for early April. Farmers in the Valley typically start planting small grains in mid-April, followed by corn and soybeans in early or mid-May. Snow didn't start to melt until mid-April, pushing the start date for planting season back.

Traill County saw more snow than most parts of northeast North Dakota, which, along with the Goose River, caused overland flooding in fields last week, said Alyssa Scheve, the North Dakota State University extension agent for Traill County.

The waters have since receded significantly from the fields, Scheve said Monday, and farmers likely will get in the fields later this week.

"We're pretty optimistic with the farming situation," she said when asked if farmers feel they will get all of their crops in this season.

Thorson agreed, adding most farmers have the equipment to get their crops in quickly.

"Conditions are changing fast," Thorson said. "We got a good start. ... If the weather holds, we'll have everything in in a timely fashion."

Farmers also started planting last week in Pembina County, said Samantha Lahman, extension agent for Pembina County. Little snow fell this winter in the county, and farmers would like to see rain, she said.

"We need some moisture to dampen everything down," she said.

Showers and thunderstorms were possible for Monday night into Tuesday morning for the Valley, with the greatest chance for severe weather in southeast North Dakota and central Minnesota, according to the National Weather Service. Most of the week should bring sunny skies with high temperatures in the mid-60s to low 70s near Grand Forks, meteorologists forecast.

Rain could return this weekend, the weather service said.

North Dakota farmers are projected to plant 6.4 million acres of spring wheat this year, a 20 percent increase from last year, according to a March 29 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The latest projections also estimate 7.1 million acres of soybeans will be planted in the state, which is unchanged from last year.

Corn is set to be down 11 percent from last year, with North Dakota farmers expected to plant about 3 million acres this season. About 199,000 acres in the state will be dedicated to sugar beets, the report said.

In Minnesota, farmers are set to plant 7.5 million acres of corn this season, the lowest amount planted in the state since 2006, the USDA said. About 7.9 acres will be dedicated to soybeans, or about 3 percent less than last year, according to the agency's estimates for Minnesota. Spring wheat likely will see a 38 percent increase in planting, with Minnesota farmers estimated to dedicate 1.6 million acres to the crop.

Farmers also are expected to plant more sugar beets than last year—the USDA projects almost 423,000 acres will be set aside for the crop in Minnesota.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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