Delayed spring planting follows late harvest in North Dakota, Minnesota

Ryan Souther, working for Nice Ag Services of Minto, applies anhydrous ammonia recently to a field that will be planted to wheat near Park River. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

This year’s late spring planting season is what northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota farmers had expected, but not what they had hoped.

“By pretty much every standard, we’re late, especially for small grains,” said Joel Ransom, North Dakota State University extension agronomist.

Spring wheat planting in North Dakota, for example, was 27% complete as of Monday, May 10, 3% behind last year and well behind the average of 56%, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service-North Dakota. Only 1% of the wheat had emerged, the statistics service said.

“We’re beyond what we would call optimal for yield potential,” Ransom said.

Farmers in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota were far from optimistic about the chances of getting in the field by ideal planting dates, after last fall’s excessive rains and heavy snows.


However, they hoped that the spring of 2020 would be warmer than last year, which would help dry fields and help get crops off to a good start.

That hasn’t happened.

A cold April and early May has resulted in soil temperatures in the high 30s and lower 40s, which means that crops will take longer to germinate, even if they do get planted. Meanwhile, high temperature readings during the past several days have only been in the 40s, so there has been little drying of fields that are saturated or have standing water.

Less than one-third -- slightly more than 30% -- of the 409,000 sugar beet acres farmers will grow for American Crystal Sugar Co. have been planted, according to Joe Hastings, American Crystal Sugar Co. agronomist, who said, most years, farmers who grow sugar beets for the cooperative would have finished planting by May 5. Last year, sugar beet planting was completed May 10.

Spring planting is furthest along in the Moorhead factory district, where about 60% of the crop is in the ground, and in the Drayton, N.D., factory district, where sugar beet planting is 41% complete, Hastings said. The Crookston, East Grand Forks and Hillsboro, N.D., factory districts, where fields were wettest last fall, have made the least planting progress.

Though adverse weather conditions are continuing to challenge the cooperative’s growers, Hastings hasn't written off this year’s sugar beet crop.

“There’s still a chance for a good crop to come up, even if we’re a little late,” said Hastings, adding he was pleased that it didn’t appear that subfreezing temperatures on the night of Sunday, May 10, had damaged emerging sugar beet plants.

However, there was concern about what damage could occur after a second consecutive night of temperatures in the 20s. Temperatures were forecast to be in the low to mid-20s Monday night.


Emerged wheat also could suffer a setback if temperatures dipped into the low 20s, as was forecast for Monday night in Walsh County, N.D., said Brad Brummond, Walsh County extension agent.

“That will freeze our wheat into the ground,” said Brummond, noting that less than 10% of the wheat in Walsh County has been planted.

“We’re starting to get late. I really fear for our corn. You can only push out dates on corn so far. We saw how that worked last year,” he said. “We need a lot of things to get into the ground fast once we can get in the field.

“It’s already almost the middle of May, and our really prime planting window tends to be mid-May to June.," he said.

After that time period, growing season temperatures are too warm for cool season crops such as wheat, and row crops, including corn, don’t have enough time to mature properly under normal weather conditions.

Though the weather forecast is for warmer temperatures later this week, there likely won’t be enough time for farmers to plant all of the crops they had planned this spring.

“Looking at everything at the moment, I think we’re going to have a lot of prevent plant,” Ransom said.

Farmers in northwest MInnesota also will be leaving fields unplanted this year, said Bill Craig, University of Minnesota Extension agricultural services agent for Marshall and Pennington counties. The only fields that have planted are ones that are tiled.


"It's going to be a crazy year, I think," Craig said.

A farmers combines corn in a field northeast of Northwood, N.D., Monday, May 11. Ann Bailey/Grand Forks Herald

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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