So far, so good for area crops

Some of the northern Red River Valley's crops are suffering from wet feet, but so far, farmers in much of the area are watching and working to help the crop run toward a finish that is weeks or months away.

Aerial application
Rich Altendorf of Northwood Aero Services applies fungicide Friday from his Ayres Thrush sprayplane to a field of wheat east of Northwood, N.D. Aerial applicators and farmers are working overtime to protect cereal and row crops that have strong potential from disease and pests. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Some of the northern Red River Valley's crops are suffering from wet feet, but so far, farmers in much of the area are watching and working to help the crop run toward a finish that is weeks or months away.

Field flooding and standing water has bedeviled crops in areas such as the Devils Lake area, North Dakota State University extension officials said. Much of the northeastern half of the state was in a "surplus" moisture condition, with much of the area 2 to 3 inches ahead of normal since April 1, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Still, most cereal crops such as wheat and barley and many row crops have strong potential that farmers and aerial applicators are working overtime to protect. The NDSU Crop and Pest Report listed a parade of potential pest problems, including wheat midge, army worms, sunflower beetles, as well as sugar beet root maggots and cutworms. Some of the problems simply bear watching.

Robert Green who farms in the St. Thomas area, in Pembina County, said he's looking at one of the best sugar beet crops he's seen "in years" for this date, while his wheat is "pretty good," and his dry edible beans are at risk for white mold.

Green said that so far, the year is outstanding for getting crops seeded, and continuing moisture. "Last year, we worked three times as hard as normal to get a poor job done," he said. "This year, we worked half as hard and got an excellent job done."


Bill Smith, North Dakota State University Extension Service agronomy agent for Grand Forks County, juggled the week's crop scouting responsibilities.

"Most of the people I've talked to are pretty happy," Smith said. "The corn that I've seen around here looks good," but beans are suffering from the yellowing of "iron chlorosis," a condition that is related to wet, cool soils earlier in the season, and an inaccessibility of the younger plants to iron in the soil.

"If we got (warmer) weather, we'd be fine with that," Smith said.

Small grains in the county are looking good, too, he said. "Most of the spring wheat and barley I've seen is headed or heading. We're actually looking at harvest in the first week of August, probably. It depends on how long the grain will take to dry down."

Ripe for scab

With persistent wetter weather, farmers are seeing potential good yields, but may have to protect that yield from disease-robbing diseases. Scab is the common name for fusarium head blight, which has afflicted the region's cereal grains since the early 1990s.

Green and his son, Nathan, are focusing on protecting the crop from scab. His wheat is looking pretty good, even though it had suffered from too much water. The crop dried up for a time, enough to get herbicides applied. Green said he fears some of the nitrogen that had been applied earlier as unavailable to the growing crop, because of the wetness. He would have "top-dressed" some nitrogen earlier, but the fields were inaccessible. Now, he wonders whether the wheat will be low in protein.

Smith said even casual motorists will probably notice the flurry of ground sprayers and aerial applicators hitting the region's fields. "About every field seems to have a sprayer going on it," Smith said of Grand Forks County. "There's definitely a lot of aerial application going on," he said.


Smith said some fields simply didn't get planted, probably because of wet conditions. Corn fields at this point look a bit mixed.

"There's some that are good, some not so good. Corn can be iffy in seasons where you don't have quite long enough for certain maturity (varieties), or if they sat in wet ground for too long," Smith said.

Beyond the valley

Greg Endres, an NDSU Extension Service area agronomist, based in Carrington, N.D., said the "cool season" crops, such as wheat, barley, canola, flax and field peas, in his area look "extremely good," with adequate soil moisture. Corn and soybeans in that area are generally looking good, too.

"I'm still hearing of some people planting soybeans yet," Endres said Friday. "The corn is growing very quickly and with warmer temperatures and good moisture, there'll be no problem with having it knee-high by the Fourth of July -- maybe waist-high -- from here, southward."

Foster and Eddy counties are looking good, while some areas of northern Barnes and Griggs counties are dealing with heavy moisture.

John Lukach, an area extension agronomist at Langdon, N.D., who recently has focused on winter wheat, said it's been so wet in the Langdon area to Devils Lake and Pembina County, that broad-leaf crops -- canola and beans, especially -- are yellowing. The crops on the higher ground are growing and disease potential is booming, he says.

"Even where you don't have standing water in the fields, you can still have all of the pores in the soil filled, so it's a matter of a lack of oxygen for the roots," he said. Beans are longer-term crops, so they can snap out of the yellowing, but wheat and other grains that are harvested in August don't have as long to mature and can be more affected. That said, small grains are looking quite good, especially where they're out of the water.


Notably, canola is threatened by "blackleg" disease, more than previous years. Canola can be attacked by two species of the disease, and it isn't easy to determine this early whether the problem will be with the more damaging species, or new "races" within it.

Grain leaf disease

Jochum Wiersma, a University of Minnesota small grains specialist at Crookston, said he was starting to find some striped rust and leaf rust, and some tan spot diseases. Computer prediction models for those diseases are still favorable for tan spot and leaf rust, and he expects diseases to progress on varieties susceptible tofusarium head blight, Wiersma said. So far, he hadn't seen it in spring wheat. He said the "leaf wetness" indicators are not as high, despite warm temperatures and occasional rains.

Despite a parade of rain conditions, he says a "scab epidemic model" is showing "waning" risk for wheat and barley. The central Red River Valley has a moderate to low risk for areas like Moorhead and Fergus Falls, and a "moderate" risk for Polk, Red Lake, Pennington and half of Marshall counties. Only Roseau and Kittson counties showed relatively high risks.

Otherwise, things are "kind of quiet," Wiersma said. "The crop is suffering from wet feet right now," Wiersma said, "It varies from field to field, but there are still some pretty nice fields out there."

The valley's important sugar beet crop is looking good so far, according to crop watchers.

American Crystal Sugar Co. growers already are speculating whether they'll have to start the "pre-pile" sugar beet harvest in mid-August, rather than the more typical Sept. 1. Decisions like that aren't made until after Aug. 1, said Green, who is a board member. Typically, the stockpiling, or "full-scale" harvest starts around Oct. 1. In cases of unusually large crops, the co-op considers whether it's better to start harvest early and start processing, so no beets are wasted. Green said the sugar beet crop is a hard one to peg because so much of the growth occurs in August and September.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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