Rains on Monday gave a boost to northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota row crops, but some parts of the region missed the moisture, and fields and pastures remain critically dry, crops experts said.
In northern North Dakota, near Langdon, where about 1.4 inches of rain fell, the precipitation should benefit later-planted canola fields, sunflowers and dry edible beans, said Randy Mehlhoff, North Dakota State University Langdon Research Extension Center director. Meanwhile, the moisture should also help to fill out the heads of wheat, which is in the soft dough stage, the phase of development in which the grain kernels harden.
Timely rains like the one that fell on Monday, July 19, so far have been “lifesaving'' for the crops, and will need to continue in Cavalier County for good row crop development, Mehlhoff said. Consistent moisture also is needed to break the drought cycle.
“We’re still in a severe drought,” he said, noting that typically there is an excellent soil moisture reserve in the fall at the experiment station in Cavalier County.
“This year, we had nothing,” Mehlhoff. “Most guys are thinking this is a little worse than 1988.”
Farther south, Nelson County, N.D., is “incredibly dry,” said Brooks Warner, NDSU Agricultural Extension Agent-Nelson County. About an inch of rain fell in the northern part of the county on July 19, and that should benefit corn fields, but the county remains in a drought.
Not only grain and row crops are suffering, but the drought has resulted in a 50% reduction in hay yields and pasture grass.
“Everybody I’ve talked to is reducing their cattle herds,” Warner said.
In Traill County, N.D., the Monday rainfall also was spotty, said Jill Lagein, NDSU- Agricultural Extension Agent-Traill County.
“It depends on what part of the county,” Lagein said. “Some parts got an inch. Some of the parts got 2 and a half.”
The wind and hail that accompanied the thunderstorms damaged some corn and sugar beet fields, she said.
American Crystal Sugar Co. is estimating that about 2,000 acres of sugar beets in the Buxton, N.D., and Climax, Minn., areas were damaged by hail, said Joe Hastings, American Crystal Sugar Co. general agronomist. This spring, farmers who grow sugar beets for American Crystal’s five factory districts in North Dakota and Minnesota planted 411,000 acres.
“When we get hail, if it’s early in the season, it’s not as devastating as later in the season,” Hastings said. “We start getting in these stages of July and August, it affects yield and quality.”
Overall, this year’s crop is a mixed bag, he said. There are some fields that are in "pretty darn good " condition and some that are fair.
“Stand establishment was a struggle this year due to the dry conditions,” Hastings said. “There are ‘gappy’ stands, as well as fields with uneven emergence, with beets in various stages.”
One advantage to the dry conditions, however, is that there is little sugar beet root disease, Hastings said.
“We've got a nice shaped root so when we do get moisture, they should be able to really use it very nicely,” he said.
Across the Red River in northwest Minnesota, the July 19 rain also was spotty, said Heather Dufault, University of Minnesota Agricultural Extension Agent-Polk and Norman counties.
“Eastern Polk County got some of the rains (Monday), and part of Norman county did, too, but not everybody did,” Dufault said.
The dry conditions and hot temperatures this growing season severely reduced some wheat yields, she said. Early wheat harvest reports from near Gentilly, Minn., in western Polk County were 15 bushels per acre.
“I think normally most of western Polk County can have a good yield of 65- to 70-bushels (per acre) wheat," Dufault said. “If we don’t get rain, we’re going to see some tough corn and soybean yields, too.”
Meanwhile, the dry conditions are affecting farmers and ranchers who have livestock and have begun to their sell cattle at auctions, she said. The forage and feed shortage in northwest Minnesota is similar to the situation in North Dakota, where sales barns have seen a dramatic increase in cattle numbers this summer.
Farther east, Marshall County, Minn., also needs rain, said Dave Clark, Marshall County ag manager. Near Stephen, Minn., for example, only 5 inches of rain have fallen so far this year, he said.
It’s too late for rain to benefit the wheat crop, but it could give the row crops a much-needed boost.
“If we get a shot now, it could help the beets and the corn and beans,” he said.