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Break in rain allows Grand Forks-area farmers to start planting

Monday, May 16, marked the start of planting for some farmers in northwestern Minnesota and northeastern North Dakota where fields were dry and warm enough after a cold and wet spring.

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Tom Barrett Sr. and his son, Tom Barrett Jr., take a break to fuel the tractor and refill the planter as they plant their first field of sugar beets east of East Grand Forks Monday, May 16, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. – In a field near East Grand Forks, Minnesota, it was the first day of planting this year for Tom Barrett Jr. and Tom Barrett Sr. They were planting their first 150 acres of sugar beets, which typically go into the ground at the end of April. Neighboring fields were dotted with other farmers tilling and beginning to plant.

Monday, May 16, marked the start of planting for some farmers in northwestern Minnesota and northeastern North Dakota, where some fields were dry and warm enough after a cold and wet spring.

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Tom Barrett Sr. plants sugar beets on a quarter-section of land east of East Grand Forks Monday, May 16, 2022. A wet and cold spring has delayed planting in the region and farmers are working to get seed in the ground where they can before the next round of forecasted rain on Thursday and Friday.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

While later than most years, it is not the first time planting has started this late.

“Forty-three years ago we never got in until now. I know that because I got married then and we never planted until afterwards,” said Tom Barrett Sr. “We've been in late before, and the ground is warm and we have moisture, so things should grow pretty quick.”

The Barretts farm sugar beets, spring wheat and soybeans. Next to go into the ground will be spring wheat, then soybeans.

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Farther north and west, in Walsh County, North Dakota, Brad Brummond, NDSU Extension Agent for Walsh County, said only 1% of all crops in the county had been planted as of May 16. Some crops have been planted near Fordville, North Dakota, where soil is sandier, and he expects more farmers along North Dakota Highway 32 to start planting this week. East of Grafton, North Dakota, where the soil is heavier and finer, it could take farmers longer to get into the fields.

Most of what already has been planted in Walsh County is spring wheat, but with a short growing season in northern North Dakota, corn will be a priority as fields dry out. Plant too late, and the risk increases for corn to be damaged by frost or the harvest season to be too wet in the fall.

“You get out into the end of May and corn goes away really quickly so I think our corn growers are really, really chomping at the bit to get in,” said Brummond.

Sugar beets are another crop to plant as soon as possible, said Brummond. Others, like dry beans and potatoes, can wait.

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In Pembina County, some farmers on the western side of the county were able to start working in the fields late in the week of May 8, said Madeleine Smith, NDSU Extension agent for Pembina County, and she expects activity in the fields to pick up as the week goes on. Like in Walsh County, the western side of Pembina County is home to more sandy soil that has been drying out faster, while the denser soil with clay in the Red River Valley has taken longer to drain and dry out.

Because of the severity of the flooding in the county, Smith expects some farmers to use prevented planting insurance coverage as final plant dates for corn and sugar beets draw near. At the same time, the war in Ukraine has caused commodity prices to rise, which could incentivize farmers to plant what they can.

“I think if they’re able to get crop in, they will try, but I do think we’ll see some prevent plant acres in the county in the areas that have been most affected by flooding and take the longest to dry out,” she said.

While planting is off to a slow start, spring rain has been good news for livestock producers in the region.

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“Our pastures really needed all this rain. They really got the heck beaten out of them last summer so this water is a gift from God,” said Brummond.

More rain is forecast for Thursday, May 19, and Friday, May 20. Barrett Sr. says it takes him and his son 2½ days to plant their 300 acres of beets, and if all goes as forecast and planned, they should finish planting before the rain comes.

“Once I get the beets in it’ll be welcome,” Barrett Sr. said.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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