Crops take advantage of warm September

What promises to end this week as the warmest September in Grand Forks since 1885 has just about covered for the tardiness of this season's crops planted late because of a wet spring and slow growth because of the unusually cool summer.

What promises to end this week as the warmest September in Grand Forks since 1885 has just about covered for the tardiness of this season's crops planted late because of a wet spring and slow growth because of the unusually cool summer.

Farmers who doubted a month ago that their corn and beans would end up beating the first killing frost have relaxed a lot, while harvesting busily the past three weeks.

"The month of September made everything up for us," said Tom Lilja, president of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, on Monday. "It made a huge difference."

At the beginning of September, crops were 18 to 21 days behind normal; now they are within less than a week behind normal schedules. That's according to a key measurement of the season, called "growing degree days," or GDDs, that rate the amount of sun and heat hitting fields.

Through Sunday in the Grand Forks area, the deficit of GDDs was only about 6 percent of the long-term normal total of 2,223 GDDs for corn by Sept. 27, according to data compiled by scientists at North Dakota State University in Fargo.


In late August and early September, the GDD deficit from long-term normal was running about 16 percent or more of the total.

But a dozen days or more of 80-degree days this month pushed crops fast to maturity, Lilja said.

"We were picking up 20 GDD units every day for most of the month of September," he said, a pace that is more like July. "Typically in September, we only get 10 to 12 GDD units a day."

The state's corn is now 75 percent dented, a key maturity stage, compared with the five-year average of 92 percent by Sept. 27, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly crop progress report. But only 6 percent of the crop is totally mature, compared with 55 percent on average from 2004-08.

Corn harvest still is more than three weeks away and if a killing frost hits today or Wednesday, there would be at least a 15 percent loss of yield, Lilja said.

But according to the National Weather Service, although there is a frost advisory with lows of 32 degrees, even 31 near Langdon, N.D., forecast for this morning, which should not kill any corn or beans.

The mercury has to fall to 28 degrees for at least four hours to be a corn-killing frost, Lilja said.

That is not in the forecast this week, as lows will remain near 40 after today highs in the mid-50s to 60, said John Hoppes, meteorologist at the weather service office in Grand Forks.


So, it looks like a lock that September's average temperature at UND will end up easily beating the record average of 62.9 degrees set in 1906, in records that go back to 1885, Hoppes said. Through Sunday, the average temperature so far this month was 65.9, and the forecast calls for average temperatures all week, he said.

Big progress can be seen in the numbers: last week alone, 14 percent of the spring wheat crop was threshed, 16 percent of the durum wheat, 22 percent of the dry edible beans, 17 percent of the canola, 15 percent of the spuds.

The small grains harvest is nearly complete, with about 90 percent of the crop binned. Dry edible beans in North Dakota were 22 percent harvested by Sunday, compared with 48 percent in the five-year average. Potatoes were 31 percent dug, compared with 58 percent on average; sunflowers were 25 percent with brown petals, compared to 58 percent in an average year.

The full-bore "stockpile" harvest of sugar beets will begin by American Crystal Sugar Co. owner/growers at midnight as Wednesday turns to Thursday, with plans to be done before the end of October.

Crystal spokesman Jeff Schweitzer said that during the "pre-pile" harvest this month, the 875 growers have brought in about 10 percent of the crop to get the five processing factories humming. Based on the harvest so far, projections are for an average yield of 24 tons per acre. That's a ton or two lower than the previous two years' yields, but still high based on 10-year averages. It means the total take will be about 10.6 million tons of beets from the 442,000 acres harvested, Schweitzer said.

Minnesota's crops have been closer to normal all year. The state's corn crop is 17 percent mature, compared with 59 percent on average from 2004-08, USDA reported. The soybean crop is 5 percent harvested, compared with 15 percent in a typical year; half the spuds and edible beans were dug, compared with 62 percent and 58 percent, respectively, in a normal year.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to

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