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Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published June 21 2013

Planting problems have farmers looking at alternative crops

GRAND FORKS – Heavy May and June rains have delayed planting in northeast North Dakota, and some farmers there are considering fast-maturing crops such as millet and buckwheat.

Before planting such crops, however, “You need to do your homework,” says Frayne Olson, North Dakota State University Extension Service crops economist.

“Make sure you’ll have a market (after harvest).” And because markets for such crops are limited, it’s easy to overproduce, hurting prices, he says.

Millet, in particular, has been discussed as a planting option in northeast North Dakota, says Brad Brummond, Walsh County Extension agent.

Farmers are reluctant to let unplanted fields sit bare all summer, so crops such as millet are attracting interest, he says.

Millet can be planted through June 20. Shorter-maturing varieties of it potentially can be planted through the end of June, according to information from the NDSU Extension Service.

The crop – a warm-season grass that’s well-adapted to summer temperatures on the Northern Plains – typically matures in 70 to 100 days, according to NDSU.

So millet planted in the middle of June would mature by the end of August to the end of September.

Millet, one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops, dates back to ancient China. An annual grass harvested for its seeds, it also can be used for forage.

Several types of millet are grown around the world. The most common in the Upper Midwest are proso millet, used primarily for feed grain and birdseed, and foxtail millet, grown primarily for hay.

Proso millet comes in a number of varieties, some of which mature faster than others, according to information from NDSU.

NDSU’s crop profitability estimates for 2013 says millet is “projecting very well.” Growers were advised to consider contracting and using act-of-God production contracts. Such contracts involve natural disasters for which no one can be held responsible.

Buckwheat another option

Buckwheat, used for human food, potentially can be planted through the end of June in North Dakota.

Buckwheat produces a three-sided angular seed.

It matures in 70 to 85 days, so buckwheat planted in late June would mature by the end of August to the middle of September.

But it’s best to “treat buckwheat with dignity,” says Hans Kandel, NDSU Extension Service agronomist. “Try to get it in as soon as you can.”

The later the crop is planted, the greater the danger of yield-damaging early frost, he says.

Kandel also emphasizes the importance of having a market lined up before planting buckwheat.

For more information on buckwheat, see www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/ crops/a687.pdf.

For more information on millet, see www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/crops/a805.pdf.