Eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota farmers will leave thousands of acres unplanted this year.

Farmers are unable to plant some of the fields because they still have last year’s corn crop on them. Heavy rains and snow in the fall of 2019 resulted in waterlogged fields that couldn’t support harvest equipment. Farmers worked over the winter and early spring to harvest the fields while the ground was still frozen, but some remained too soft for their combines to navigate. The unharvested fields now have been wind-whipped, and the corn that was standing is lying down, making it difficult to harvest.

Besides being unable to plant because of unharvested 2019 corn, some fields across eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota are either too saturated to plant, have standing water on them, or both.

As June winds down, many farmers with unplanted acres likely will leave them that way, instead of attempting to put in a crop. Planting after mid-June can result in small grains, which are cool season crops, getting damaged by hot temperatures.

“Today is the day I would pull the plug on everything,” said Brad Brummond, Walsh County (N.D.) Extension agent, agriculture, on Tuesday, June 16. ”If you plant wheat, you face the risk of heat, if you plant canola, you face the risk of heat."

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Meanwhile, row crops are not a good option because, if planted later than is optimal, they may not mature before temperatures dip below freezing. Walsh County farmers quit planting corn a month ago, Brummond said.

“What else are you going to plant?” he asked.

Because planting crops late in the season is risky, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduces the amount of crop insurance farmers can receive after specified dates. The dates, which vary by crop and location, are called final or “prevented planting” dates

For example, the final planting dates for crops in Walsh and Grand Forks counties were corn on May 25, wheat and canola on June 5 and soybeans, sunflowers and dry beans on June 10.

In neighboring northwest Minnesota, the final planting date for corn was May 25, soybeans on June 10 and spring wheat on June 5.

In 2019, North Dakota had a total of about 830,600 acres of prevented planting, the 10th most in the United States, according to USDA. Minnesota ranked sixth in prevented planting acres in 2019, with 1.17 million. Total U.S. prevented planting acres in 2019 were a record 19.3 million.

Farmers who plant crops after the prevented planting dates receive a 1% discount in crop insurance guarantee during the next 25 days, for every date the crops are not planted. After the 25-day late planting period, they will receive additional discounts.

Brummond estimates about 15% or about 120,600 of Walsh County’s acreage won’t get planted this spring. Walsh County has a total of 804, 520 acres of cropland, according to the 2017 agricultural census.

In general, about 20% to 25% of cropland in eastern North Dakota likely won’t be planted to crops, estimated Katelyn Hain, Grand Forks County Extension Agent, agriculture and natural resources. Grand Forks County has a total of 798,480 acres of cropland, the 2017 census said.

“One producer I talked to in Nelson County said maybe they were sitting at 40%,” said Hain, who estimated the number of prevented planting acres in most parts of Grand Forks County is lower than that. The western one-third of Grand Forks County, where excessive rains have fallen for consecutive years will have the highest number of prevented planting acres.

Unlike in the rest of the county where unplanted acres consist of patches within fields, there are entire fields in western Grand Forks County that won’t get planted, Hain said.

Prevented planting also will be likely in eastern North Dakota counties south of Grand Forks, said Brad Thykeson USDA North Dakota Farm Service Agency state executive director.

“We are fighting high water tables in the eastern part of North Dakota,” Thykeson said.

The deadline for farmers to certify their acres for prevented planting is July 15, so the FSA won’t release prevented planting acreage figures until later this summer.

"You are looking into late August before it's official," Thykeson said.

But unofficially, it's clear that the number of acres will be notable.

“We would speculate right now a significant amount of prevented plant acres in 2020. We know that for a fact,” Thykeson said.