FISHER, Minn. – After farming for more than 40 years in a land of extreme conditions, Curt Knutson has a down-to-earth view of the crazy crop year of 2021.
Over the years, the Fisher farmer has witnessed crops that survived the same kind of freezing temperatures, extreme heat and winds that have characterized this growing season. He also has weathered crop failures, although he doesn't believe this year's will be counted among them.
“It’s dry," Knutson said, on Wednesday, June 16. “I don’t think it’s a disaster, yet.”
Like other farmers across northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, the condition of Knutson’s crops varies, depending on their type and how much rain has fallen on them. Most of the rain in the region this summer has resulted from isolated thunderstorms, rather than general and prolonged soaking rans.
For example, after a thunderstorm on Friday, June 11, Knutson’s gauge measured 0.20 inches of precipitation. Meanwhile, 1.27 inches fell at his neighbor’s farm, just a mile away.
Rains in northeast North Dakota during the week of June 6-13 varied from less than 0.5 inch to as much as 3.5 inches, Anitha Chirumamilla said in the June 17 NDSU crop and pest report.
The rains have rejuvenated crops, but emergence in many of them was spotty because they were planted in dry soil, said Chirumamilla, NDSU Extension agricultural agent-Cavalier County. That means that some fields still look ragged, despite receiving moisture.
Small grains in northeast North Dakota are a mixed bag, Chirumamilla said. Some fields look good and others are heading out at heights of from 6 to 10 inches.
Knutson’s spring wheat crop likely will yield lower than average because the hot June weather has pushed the fields to mature too fast, and it headed out in mid-June. That's about two weeks earlier than is typical, given the early April planting date.
"Every field is a little different. We like to see it at least 2 feet tall. Some this year are a foot tall or less,” he said. He doubts that at this stage of the crop's development, rain would improve the condition of the wheat.
Knutson estimates his wheat yields will be significantly lower this year, ranging from 30 to 50 bushels per acre.
“We like to see 80s and 90s,” he said.
Knutson remains optimistic about the outlook for his soybeans, though some of his fields took a beating during strong winds on June 11. The winds sheared off leaves of some young soybean plants and damaged others.
He is not replanting the field because the seed wouldn’t sprout, he said. Soybeans are seeded at a depth of 2 inches, and the soil is dry down to 4 inches, Knutson said, as he knelt down on the ground of a 230-acre soybean field and dug up a handful of parched soil.
Meanwhile, Knutson believes that despite the wind damage, he will still harvest a crop from the field. Some of the plants hurt by the wind still have viable growth points and have formed tiny leaves in the past week, he noted.
“We think they’ll recover,” he said.
Rain would benefit Knutson’s soybeans and his sugar beets because they mature later in the season than the wheat. So far, his sugar beet crops look good, but moisture during the next few months will be critical to how many tons the crop will produce.
“That crop is made in July, August, September,” Knutson said.
While it's stressful waiting for rain, he also keeps in mind that sometimes when it starts raining, too much falls. That occurred in 2019 when excessive rains fell in September and October, and he had to leave half of his sugar beet crop in the field because conditions were too muddy to support harvest equipment and trucks.
Still, if he had a choice, Knutson would prefer too much rain over too little.
"At the end of the day, I’d rather fight to get in a good crop than breeze through a poor crop,” he said.