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Patrick Springer, Published May 06 2013

Spring planting picks up after delayed start

FARGO - Mike Flaten oversees a fleet of sprayers that have taken to area fields to apply fertilizer in preparation for a delayed spring planting that has kept farmers waiting.

“We’re going full guns,” Flaten, agronomy manager at Maple River Grain and Agronomy, which operates seven sprayers from its base in Casselton, said Monday. “Around here, it seems like everybody’s going.”

At long last, spring planting has begun or soon will as farmers prepare their fields for seeding in the southern Red River Valley.

The prolonged winter and sluggish spring mean planting is roughly two weeks behind for many farmers. April 20 is often regarded as typical for the start of planting.

By comparison, spring arrived unusually early last year, when many area farmers already had planted their small-grain crops by the end of March.

“We’re not extremely late at this point,” said Randy Nelson, Clay County Extension educator.

Still, farmers are starting to get antsy as they watch the window for optimal planting that is approaching its end. April 25 to May 10 is regarded as the best time for planting corn, Nelson said.

“People want to get in the ground,” he said. “Things have to start getting into gear.”

“In general, we’ll see the planting pick up this week,” said John Kringler, Cass County Extension agent.

Despite the late start in planting, and the narrowing window for optimal planting, most farmers probably will stick with their plans.

But if they are delayed further, some farmers likely will switch from corn, wheat and barley to soybeans, sunflowers or edible beans, Kringler said.

North Dakota farmers will plant more corn this year than in 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted earlier.

North Dakota farmers are expected to plant about 4.1 million acres of corn this spring, up from last year’s 3.6 million acres.

The growth in corn acreage has come at the expense of wheat. This year, North Dakota farmers are expected to plant 7.65 million acres, down from 7.8 acres last year.

In Minnesota, farmers are expected to plant 9 million acres of corn, up from 8.75 million last year, and 1.4 million acres of wheat, up slightly from last year’s 1.39 million acres.

Bill Hejl, who farms near Amenia in northern Cass County, is getting his crop in the ground. He started planting wheat on Monday after cultivating on Saturday.

“There is good soil moisture there,” Hejl said. “I don’t know how deep it is.”

Because of the late planting, farmers fear their yields will be reduced, even if rains are timely during the growing season.

“The potential has already dropped 5 or 10 percent,” Hejl said. “When you’re two weeks late, that takes a little bit off.”

Rob Punton, who farms between Ayr and Absaraka in Cass County, is fertilizing and preparing his fields for planting, which he expects to start in a couple of days.

“It feels good to get out there again,” he said Monday while preparing for his 40th planting season.

The wet snow that fell in late winter and early spring helped to replenish soil moisture, but the deep soil is dry, he said.

“We’re going to need rains,” Punton said. Well, he added a moment later, those rains could wait just a little until he finishes planting.

“Moisture did percolate down into the soils,” Kringler said. “We should be in better shape now than we were in the fall with soil moisture.”

Farmers will want to see more rain, however, and favorable growing conditions, Kringler said.

“I think they’re optimistic, as they are every spring,” he said. “They were anxious to get going.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522