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Wet weather slows Valley harvest

After big progress last week on a late harvest, farmers were stymied again Tuesday by rains that halted combines and sugar beet lifters. More rain is expected in the greater Red River Valley this weekend.

After big progress last week on a late harvest, farmers were stymied again Tuesday by rains that halted combines and sugar beet lifters. More rain is expected in the greater Red River Valley this weekend.

Normally, wheat harvest would be about finished and bean harvest would be well on its way.

"We got a little over an inch (of rain), but I'm not hearing of a lot of damage as far as wind and other things," said Ken Nichols, agricultural extension agent in Traill County, N.D., on Wednesday. "It set us back some, but we got warm weather today and sun, so, optimistically, the fields aren't too wet; there's a chance they can get back out combining Thursday. We still have a fair amount of wheat left out in the fields, and the row crops aren't ready yet."

Across North Dakota, 44 percent of the spring wheat crop was threshed by Sunday, compared with 86 percent on average by the same date from 2004-08, according to the weekly crop progress report compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ag statistics office in Fargo. Monday's good harvest weather means probably little more than half the crop still was in the field when Tuesday's rains hit the region.

Wheat yields, like barley and oat yields, have been above average, with many reports of 50 to 70 bushels per acre for wheat. But price discounts assessed by grain elevators because of the unusually low protein levels are cutting farmers' revenue by a big chunk.

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By Sunday, dry edible beans in North Dakota were showing fewer leaves yellowing, a key maturity sign, on only 36 percent of the crop, versus the normal 76 percent by Sept. 6. Only 14 percent of North Dakota's corn crop is dented, compared with 53 percent by this time in a normal year; 59 percent was in dough state, compared with typical 86 percent by the same time. Soybeans also are well behind typical maturity because of the late spring planting and cooler-than-normal summer: only 18 percent showing yellowing, instead of the more normal 54 percent by Sept. 6.

In Minnesota, corn and soybeans are nearer normal maturity, but still well behind: 77 percent of the corn is in the dough stage, compared with 93 percent by the same time in a normal year; 31 percent of soybeans were turning yellow, versus 52 percent in a typical year.

Corn now rivals spring wheat for crop dominance in North Dakota. But this year, a normal date for the first killing frost would kill the corn before its time.

Last year, the corn crop in North Dakota was later than normal, too, but not this far behind schedule; and the first frost was late.

"The corn looks good, but will it make it?" Nichols asked. "We are three weeks behind. The corn tasseled around the 15th of August, and we need about 60 days after tasseling. That brings us to the 15th of October. And I guess we can't expect to have nice sunny days every day until then. Boy, we are really pushing it again."

Traill County, in fact, is about 100 "growing degree days" behind last year, which was about 100 GDDs behind normal by this time.

"We should be at 2,000 GDDs by now. We're at about 1,800," Nichols said.

And the late planting dates mean the corn crop didn't even get to take advantage of the first week or so of GDDs that begin being tallied May 4, he said.

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In northwestern Minnesota, fields have gotten from 240 to 407 fewer GDDs so far, compared with the normal of 1,349 in the Warroad area to 1,648 GDDs around Crookston to 1,862 around Moorhead by Sept. 6, USDA reported.

The "pre-pile" period of sugar beet harvesting that began Sept 1 mostly was halted Wednesday because of the rain, making several of American Crystal Sugar's receiving stations too muddy. Lifting of beets should resume today, as growers bring in about 10 percent of their crop during this month before the full-bore "stockpile" harvest begins Oct. 1.

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

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