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It's too cold and too wet to plant across the northern Plains

Cold temperatures and excessive moisture have delayed spring planting across the northern Plains.

An aerial photo shows water meandering across a bare field.
Fields across North Dakota and Minnesota are too cold and wet to plant and some farmers don't have access because of closed and washed out roads.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
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Cold temperatures and excessive moisture have pushed back spring planting across the northern Plains and bumped the final dates for crop insurance coverage too close for comfort for some farmers.

April storms that dropped heavy snows and rains delayed planting across the entire state of North Dakota, and fields in Minnesota also were too wet and soil temperatures too cold to plant in April.

Seventy-one percent of North Dakota's soil moisture was rated adequate or surplus for the week that ended May 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service said in its weekly crop report for North Dakota.

Even in areas of the state where it remains dry, field conditions weren’t suitable for planting because soil temperatures were cold.

Soil temperatures across North Dakota the week of April 24-30 averaged in the mid-to high 30s to low 40s, according to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network.

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Water is shown intermittently covering a field. The focus is on damp soil in the foreground.
Wet soils or inundated fields are one issue keeping farmers from planting in North Dakota and other parts of the region, while unusually cold soil temperatures also are a problem.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

There was only one-half day suitable for fieldwork in North Dakota during that week, NASS said.

The weather conditions further delayed spring planting. Spring wheat planting was 5% completed, 13% less than the five-year average and 34% less than 2021, the agency said. Planting of oats, barley, canola and edible peas, all of which were estimated at 1%, also lagged well behind last year and, to varying degrees, behind the five-year average

The five-year average for oats was 12%, canola, 4% and dry edible peas and barley, 14%. Last year, farmers had planted 7% of their canola, 18% of their oats, 21% of their dry edible peas and 35% of their barley acres.

In Divide County, North Dakota, where April storms dropped heavy snow, few farmers had started planting as of May 3, said Travis Blinde, North Dakota State University Extension agriculture and natural resources agent for Divide County.

“There still is snow in the fields,” Blinde said.

Farmers in the county typically get into the field in mid-April and field peas are the first crop to be planted, he said.

“Last year we had one of the first people start on April 8,” Blinde said.

Warm dry conditions during the week of May 2 were expected to dry fields, so it’s likely that, barring more rain, farmers will get into the field during the week of May 9, he said. Farmers are likely to plant when fields dry, even if soil conditions are colder than optimal, he said.

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Farther south, in Adams County, from 18- to 24-inches of snow and heavy rains fell during two April snowstorms, causing planting delays.

The precipitation saturated soils, but field conditions for spring planting were improving by May 2 and some Adams County farmers were planting around snow drifts, said Hannah Nordby, the county’s Extension agent.

“It’s been windy here, so things are drying out,” she said on May 3. If field conditions continue to dry, most farmers will be back in the field the week of May 9, Nordby estimated.

Water covers much of a field, with last year's stubble still in rows.
Farmers who have been prevented from planting in April and May will have to determine whether strong commodity prices are worth planting past final planting dates for full insurance coverage. Fields in many parts of North Dakota and neighboring states remain too wet and cold to plant in early May.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

“If we hadn’t gotten that snow, it was kind of early to normal (planting) time because we didn’t have any snow on the ground prior to those blizzards,” she said. ”Now with the snow and this precipitation, I would say, it won’t be super late but it’s going to be later and a much more compact season.”

In Pembina County, near the Canadian U.S. border in eastern North Dakota, researchers at the Langdon Research Extension Center hope to begin planting field plots by May 15, said Randy Mehlhoff, the center’s director.

That’s about two weeks later than normal and the second latest planting date in at least 35 years, as a result of April snow and rain storms, Mehlhoff said on May 3.

“We still have 4- to 6-feet drifts in the trees,” he said.

While fields are wet, warm temperatures also are needed because soil temperatures are low.

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For example, the average bare soil temperature in Langdon on May 2 was 35 degrees and the average turf temperature was 32 degrees, according to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network.

Water completely covers a field.
Concerns from a 2021 drought largely have been replaced in parts of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota with concerns about too much water.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

“On small grains you want to wait until the soil temperatures get in the low 40s. That's as low as you want to go," Mehlhoff said. “If you put it in that cold, you want to have your seed treated because it may not come out of the ground for a while.”

If more rain falls and planting continues to be delayed, some North Dakota farmers may start thinking about whether prevented planting is a viable option.

That decision this year will be more complicated for corn farmers than it has been in the past because the price of the commodity has risen substantially per bushel — more than $1.60 per bushel more in some places — since USDA set the crop insurance price in February at $5.90.

In North Dakota, the final date for most counties for corn planting is May 25 in order to have full insurance coverage. After that date, the coverage percentage drops every day until no coverage is available.

Based on the prevented planting formula, farmers with an actual production history of 160 bushels per acre would receive $363 per acre if they opt for prevented planting. However, if corn prices remain high, and the price this fall is $7.50 per bushel, farmers who opt to plant even with expected smaller yields could see better returns through planting. For instance, if the farmer who usually gets 160 bushels per acre gets 75% of that but sells at $7.50 per bushel, he could get $900 per acre.

There’s strong potential for corn prices to remain strong this fall because of the ongoing war in Ukraine and crop problems in South American growing areas, so farmers likely will strongly consider the latter option, said Mike Kozojed, a farmer and crops insurance agent at Ihry Insurance in Hillsboro, North Dakota.

“They feel like there is a bullish situation going into fall,” he said. Though, that means that corn farmers will shift their risk from their crop insurance policy to their farms, they will have financial incentive to do that.

A man with a blue shirt and glasses looks at the camera. There is a brick wall behind him.
Mike Kozojed is a crop insurance agent and farmer.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

Even if their corn yields are reduced by 10-, 20- or 30-%, they will make more money planting the crop than using the prevented planting option, Kozojed said.

Across the Red River in Polk County, Minnesota, where there was river flooding and overland flooding in late April and early May, no crops had been planted as of May 3, said Heather Dufault, University of Minnesota Extension educator.

Barring rain, some farmers may be able to get in the field during the week of May 9, she said. However, rain was in the forecast for the weekend preceding it.

The extreme turnaround from last year, when farmers faced drought conditions during the growing season is worrisome for farmers.

“I think we’re starting to see concerns,” Dufault said.

Further south, in west-central Minnesota, April snows, rain and cold soil delayed planting, said Jodi DeJjong-Hughes, U of M regional Extension educator crops and soils

Most wheat fields hadn’t been planted as of May 3, she said.

Farmers in west-central Minnesota, which includes the city of Willmar, where DeJong-Hughes has an office, weren’t too concerned, as of early May, about the delay, DeJong-Hughes said.

“Once they get started, if nothing breaks down, they can get a lot of acres in, in a short time,” she said. “They’re optimistic.”

Statewide in Minnesota, there were 1.1 days suitable for fieldwork as of May 1, which further delayed planting. Subsoil in the state was rated as 16% surplus and 68% adequate. Two percent of the subsoil in the state remained very short and 14% was short, NASS said.

The cold, wet spring delayed planting of corn, of which Minnesota ranked No. 4 in production of in the U.S. in 2021. Less than 1% of Minnesota’s corn crop was planted as of May 1, compared to 64% last year and the average of 24%, NASS said.

Sugarbeet planting was limited to southwestern Minnesota, where 1% of the crop was seeded. Last year, 72% of Minnesota’s sugar beets had been planted by May 1, and the five-year average was 38%, according to NASS.

Small grain planting also was behind schedule in Minnesota. Barley planting, for example, was 1% completed, which was 54% less than last year and 19% less than the five-year average; spring wheat planting, pegged at 1%, was 23% behind the five-year average and 63% behind last year.

Farmers in South Dakota, where soil conditions are drier but generally still cool, were making better progress planting than farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota, but during the week of April 25-May 1, there were only 3.5 days suitable for field work, according to NASS.

Top and subsoil moisture in South Dakota has improved in some areas, but more of the state is dry than is wet. Subsoil moisture as of May 1 was 43% adequate and 6% surplus, while 13% was very short and 38% was short, NASS said.

Three percent of the state’s corn acres were in the ground as of the week ended May 1, nearly 20% less than last year and 13% less than the five-year average, Soybean planting, pegged at 1%, was slightly lower than the five-year average of 4%, and 6% lower than last year, NASS said.

Wheat planting, which was estimated at 48% was near the five-year average of 51%, but emergence, which was pegged at 12%, was behind the five-year average of 22% and significantly less than last year’s average of 43%.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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