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Jon Knutson, Published May 20 2009

Area farmers finally in fields

Ayr, N.D., farmer Bruce Hagen nearly had his spring planting wrapped up at this time a year ago.

This year he’s just getting started.

“The difference from last year is like night and day,” said the Cass County farmer.

Hagen is among the many area farmers finally getting into their fields after weeks of waiting because of the wet spring.

It’s too early to predict how many acres won’t get planted, but the wet spring has put most area farmers far behind schedule.

For instance, one-third of North Dakota’s wheat crop is planted, compared with an average of 80 percent in the previous five years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This year’s statewide total is boosted by good progress in parts of western and central North Dakota.

There is much less progress in other areas of the state, particularly the Red River Valley, according to the USDA.

Planting is ahead of normal overall in Minnesota. But that reflects extremely rapid progress in most of the state and masks slower-than-average planting in northwestern Minnesota, the USDA said.

“We’re a good two weeks behind normal,” said Kelly Erickson, a farmer in Hallock, Minn., in the northern Red River Valley.

River flooding is still a problem in his area, so many farmers are just getting into their fields in earnest this week, he said.

Temperature and moisture conditions vary every growing season. Crops planted late don’t necessarily fare poorer than ones planted early.

But late-planted crops typically yield less than earlier-planted ones.

Corn yields drop 2 percent for each day after late May that the crop is planted in the state, according to the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, said he’s hearing reports of more faster-maturing corn being planted.

But varieties that mature faster typically have lower yield potential.

Despite the late start in parts of the area, farmers will make rapid progress when the weather allows, thanks to big and efficient modern agricultural equipment, said Doug Holen, University of Minnesota Extension regional educator in Fergus Falls.

“Give them a good week, and they’ll be able to get a lot done,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530