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When planting will start up in the air after erratic weather

In a normal year, most area farmers are planting, or soon will be, in mid-April. This isn't a normal year. Heavy and slow-to-melt snow cover in some parts of the Upper Midwest is delaying planting. Potentially heavy flooding in some areas, partic...

Planting

In a normal year, most area farmers are planting, or soon will be, in mid-April.

This isn't a normal year.

Heavy and slow-to-melt snow cover in some parts of the Upper Midwest is delaying planting. Potentially heavy flooding in some areas, particularly the Red River Basin of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, further complicates the planting outlook.

Drought in Minnesota, and southern and northeast North Dakota adds still another dimension to planting. Some farmers are debating whether to plant now in dry soil or hold off in hopes of receiving traditional spring rains.

In contrast, northwest North Dakota received heavy snow this winter and was still "wet and white" in early April, said John Woodbury, location manager in Ross, N.D., for Dakota Quality Grain Cooperative.

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In Minnesota, "there will be a lot of difference in when planting starts," said Bob Zelenka, executive director of the state Grain and Feed Association. Heavy snowfall in west-central and northwest Minnesota will cause farmers there to start planting later than their peers elsewhere in the state.

Regionwide, there's no cause for panic yet about late planting. Typically, planting doesn't begin in earnest until mid or late April, reaching top gear in early May.

Trouble spots

Still, there's reason for concern, at least in some areas.

In the Devils Lake Basin, planting won't begin, at best, until early or mid-May, said Bill Hodous, Ramsey County extension agent.

Heavy snow cover remains, and time is needed for snow to melt and fields to dry, he said. Substantial late-spring rain or snow could further delay the start of planting until late May, a month later than normal, he said.

A late May start would pressure farmers to plant as quickly as possible, he said.

"Farms today are bigger, so they have more acres to cover (in planting). But they have bigger equipment, so they can get over more acres," he said.

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Southwest North Dakota has the opposite problem, receiving virtually no snow this winter and is extremely dry.

"Any and all moisture would be welcome," said Duaine Marxen, Hettinger County extension agent.

Low soil temperatures kept many farmers from starting to plant early, but rising temperatures allowed planting in his area to begin on the weekend of April 6 and 7, he said.

Planting plans

One of the big questions in area agriculture is whether delayed planting will cause farmers to plant less corn.

High corn prices make the crop attractive. The late March annual planting intentions report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, predicts that farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota will plant more corn this spring.

Planting corn later than normal, however, increases the risk that it will be hurt by fall frost. Corn's rising popularity in northwest North Dakota may be slowed, but not stopped, if the spring remains wet, Woodbury said.

Hodous said farmers in the Devils Lake area definitely want to plant more corn. A late spring would cut into an acreage increase, he said, but it's unclear by how much.

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Typically, soybeans, which can be planted relatively late, pick up acres in an unusually late spring. Crops such as canola and small grains, which are popular in the Devils Lake area, could also pick up acres.

Unless fields stay wet well into June, most crops can be planted safely, said Jochum Wiersma, small grain specialist at the University of Minnesota in Crookston.

"We can still plant. The concern is that yields, potentially, can be much lower," he said.

For instance, yields of wheat in North Dakota are expected to drop by 1.5 percent per day when the crop is planted after May 15. Wheat planted, say 10 days after May 15, could yield 15 percent less.

April weather

The second half of April is expected to bring above-average precipitation and below-average temperatures on the Northern Plains, according to the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.

The center doesn't have much of a handle on what might happen with moisture in May and June. It predicts an equal chance of above-normal, normal and below-normal precipitation across the Northern Plains.

Below-normal temperatures are forecast in May and June for northern North Dakota. Above-normal temperatures are predicted in May and June for southern Minnesota. There's an equal chance of above-normal, normal and below-normal precipitation across the rest of the two states, the center predicts.

Drought continues in Minnesota where it will likely improve, and southern and northeast North Dakota where "some improvement" is expected, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Missing 2012

This year's late spring is a big change from last year's early spring.

According to NASS, Minnesota farmers, on average, expect to begin full-scale field work on April 26. That would be two weeks later than last year, but only five days later than normal.

At mid-April this year, many fields in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota still have at least some snow cover.

Last year in late March, some farmers in that area contacted Wiersma to ask if it was safe to begin planting wheat.

"They kept asking, 'Can we go? Can we go?'" he recalled.

Planting won't be as early or simple this year, he said. "How easily we get spoiled."

Impact on yield

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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