EUCLID, Minn. – By the time the calendar page flips to June, Brent Strickler hopes to be about wrapped up with 2020 spring planting.
A June finish is later than Strickler prefers, and getting field work done this spring has been frustrating, he said. Strickler, who operates Strickler Farms near Euclid, with his father, Don, and son, Hayden, started seeding May 12. With the farm’s crew of workers and the equipment they use, the Stricklers could have finished planting their 5,000 acres earlier, if they hadn’t been delayed by wet field conditions.
“It’s been slower because very little ground is ready each day,” Strickler said. “When the ground gets ready a little bit at a time, it makes for a slow, inefficient planting season.”
This is the second straight year late springs have followed wet falls. Last fall, heavy rains and snow resulted in corn fields that were too muddy and wet to harvest. Those fields remain wet this spring.
“The ground is just saturated,” Strickler said. That’s not a problem unique to northwest Minnesota.
“It’s a widespread issue, other than the very southern valley and the very northern valley. It’s like this big geographical area – South Dakota is wet and North Dakota is wet. It’s very different to have this much of an area affected for such a long time.”
The scope of the wet fields is reflected in the National Agricultural Statistics weekly crop condition reports.
In North Dakota, planting of nearly every crop was later than last year and much later than the five-year average. For example, for the week ending May 24, soybean planting was 29% complete, compared with 40% last year and the five-year average of 60%, according to National Agricultural Statistic Service-North Dakota. Meanwhile, spring wheat planting was 70% complete as of May 24. That’s 7% less than was planted by that date in 2019 and nearly 20% behind the five-year average.
In Minnesota, 86% of the wheat was planted as of May 24, which was a day ahead of last year but six days behind average, National Agricultural Statistics Service-Minnesota said. Statewide, 88% of Minnesota’s soybeans were planted by May 24, which was 20 days ahead of last year and 11 days ahead of average.
Soybean planting in northwest Minnesota, though, has been slower going than in the rest of the state.
“We’re working on soybeans right now,” Strickler said Thursday, May 28. Besides soybeans, the Stricklers grow wheat, corn and edible beans.
As the planting season gets later and later, it takes patience not to seed the crop in fields that are still muddy, Strickler said.
“You start to push things, you start to make mistakes, when it’s late in the year, and you know you’ve got to have it planted,” Strickler said. “Sure, you can say you’re done with that field and that crop, but you know it takes away from your full potential when you mud it in.”
The temptation to plant before fields are dry enough is strong because, typically, planting later results in yield reduction.
“You know when you plant late, the full potential is not realized,” Strickler said. “Wheat and corn really do better when planted earlier.”
Meanwhile, sugar beets continue to grow until they are harvested, so the earlier they are planted and longer they grow, the larger they get, he noted.
This week, Strickler finished planting the sugar beets he grows for American Crystal Sugar Co. Company-wide, farmers were about 90% completed with sugar beet planting as of Thursday, May 28, said Joe Hastings, American Crystal Sugar general agronomist. Some farmers were able to get sugar beets in the ground April 22, and others were delayed by wet conditions.
“We had a great last week of planting, and really got caught up nicely,” Hastings said.
Overall, planting is slightly behind last year and the long-term average, he said. The lateness doesn’t mean farmers won’t produce a good quality crop, though.
“We think there’s great potential for this year’s crop, definitely,” Hastings said.
Farmers who grow sugar beets for American Crystal Sugar Co. will plant an estimated 408,000 acres this year, Hastings said. In 2019, farmers grew 400,000 acres.
Most farmers in the Euclid area, like the Stricklers, are finished planting sugar beets.
“For the most part, in our neck of the woods, the wheat and the sugar beets have been in for a little while. Soybeans are anywhere from just getting started to 50, 60, 70% done.”
Meanwhile, a lot of corn in the Euclid area didn’t get planted because it was late in the planting season, and farmers didn’t want to risk a repeat of last year, when the late-planted corn didn’t mature by freeze-up.
“A lot of farmers will plant something else,” Strickler said. “We’re getting to the point of getting late, but soybeans can be planted for another six days and be fine.”
He hopes the price outlook for his crops improves by the time he’s ready to market them, but he isn't holding out much hope.
“The farming has been in a poor price scenario for five years," he said. "It’s not really great out here in the farming economy, and this year doesn't look a whole lot better.”