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Patrick Springer, Published June 12 2013

Heavy rains leave farmers scrambling

FARGO – Farmers in northeast North Dakota are swamped from heavy spring rains that are the worst Ron Beneda has seen in his 35 years as Extension agent for Cavalier County.

“As a whole for this northeast North Dakota area, I think it’s by far the worst we’ve ever had,” he said Tuesday.

In Cavalier County, which includes Langdon, farmers were able to plant between 20 and 80 percent of their acres, Beneda said.

In neighboring Walsh County, an estimated 35 to 40 percent is planted, with perhaps 60 percent in Benson County.

“There’s just not much in the whole northeast when you average it out,” Beneda said.

Some areas of northeast North Dakota saw 12 to 14 inches of rain or more since May 1, he said. Some farms east of Langdon had 9 inches of rain in one day.

American Crystal Sugar said its shareholder farmers have been able to plant 426,000 acres of the maximum 458,000 allowed acres of sugar beets.

“We’re about 93 percent planted with what we believe our potential acres will be,” said Jeff Schweitzer, a spokesman for the cooperative.

It appears another 2,000 or 3,000 acres could be planted. If so, that means the number of planted acres will fall 6.5 percent below the allowed number.

American Crystal’s Drayton, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., districts are the wettest and therefore the hardest hit, Schweitzer said.

“Less than desirable would be an understatement,” he said, describing the planting conditions facing many in the Red River Valley.

Farmers covered by crop insurance encountered a planting planning deadline Monday: Crops planted after that date will be eligible for reduced payouts if crop insurance claims are filed.

That means many farmers in the region face a dilemma: spend more money to plant a crop that faces reduced yields, or take your losses and file for crop insurance.

In some cases, farmers might still want to plant a crop in soggy fields to draw moisture out of the soil to improve conditions for next year, county agents said.

Even where crops have been planted, the late start translates into a shorter growing season and smaller yields.

“It’s going to put a lot of downward pressure on how that yield turns out,” Schweitzer said of the valley’s sugar beet crop.

In Cass County, conditions generally are much better than in northeast North Dakota, “although we do have some areas that aren’t going to be planted this year,” said John Kringlie, county Extension agent.

“The window is closing on planting potential,” he said, adding that farmers who opted for late planting likely will shift to soybeans, dry edible beans or sunflowers.

Notable wet pockets of Cass County include an area southwest of West Fargo, where 4 or 5 inches of rain fell a few weeks ago, Kringlie said.

This spring’s soggy weather is in sharp contrast to the drought conditions that prevailed last year.

Actually, last year’s dry spell should be seen as an interruption in the wet phase that has gripped the Red River Valley for 20 years, meteorologists said.

“In the overall wet cycle that we’ve been in since 1993, last year was the unusual year,” said Mark Ewens, a meteorologist and weather analyst for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

Similarly, 2006 turned dry after a wet spring, but was followed by three very wet years that ended in the record 2009 flood in Fargo, he said.

Daryl Ritchison, a WDAY meteorologist, said it isn’t uncommon for a very dry year to be followed by a very wet year.

“These big changes occur and they’re not as unusual as people think,” he said, citing the dry conditions in 2006 as a recent example.

The consistently wet conditions seem to be fading, and July should be a drier month, Ewens and Ritchison said.

June traditionally is Fargo’s wettest month, with an average of 3.9 inches. The average rainfall for May is 2.81 inches.

The 7.16 inches that fell last month at Hector International Airport was more than twice the normal, but Ritchison cautioned that 4.5 inches fell in a storm that was very localized, with much lower amounts even half a mile or a mile away.

As for June so far, “This month we’ve been pretty close to the average,” with 1.08 inches recorded in the first 10 days, he said.

Conditions so far have been nearly ideal for lawns, although gardeners who haven’t yet planted their vegetables are having problems, said Don Kinzler, a retired horticulturalist and gardening columnist for The Forum.

“All in all it’s a pretty good start for the growing season, unless you didn’t get your vegetables planted,” Kinzler said.

As for the long-term weather trends, Ewens and Ritchison cautioned that any forecast is complicated by uncertainty, but it appears weather patterns in the Pacific Ocean may be changing, and could signal the beginning of a new pattern.

“Eventually, we will go dry and stay dry for two or three years,” Ritchison said.


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