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Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published August 22 2013

Early barley yields mixed in ND, northwest Minnesota

North Dakota and northwest Minnesota barley growers had wrapped up an excellent harvest by this time a year ago. This year, most producers are just beginning their harvest, two or three weeks later than usual, and early returns are mixed.

Brian Lacey, who raises barley in Wendell, Minn., on the southern edge of Minnesota’s main barley-growing area, already has finished his barley.

Yields were below average, the result of too-wet conditions this spring, though quality is fairly good, he says.

He’s hopeful that barley farther north in Minnesota, where the crop was planted later and the harvest is just beginning, will fare better.

Barley harvest typically begins in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota in late July. The crop is one of the first to be harvested in the region. This year’s harvest is delayed because of a late, wet spring.

North Dakota typically leads the nation in barley production. Minnesota is in the top 10, with the northwest part of the state accounting for the majority of barley production.

This year, North Dakota farmers planted an estimated 900,000 acres of barley, behind an estimated 1 million barley acres in Montana.

Wet conditions this spring in northern and north-central North Dakota, where much of the state’s barley is grown, prevented many barley fields from being planted and delayed planting on other fields.

Mark Seastrand, who farms in Sheyenne, N.D., says the wet spring allowed him to plant only about two-thirds of his fields.

“I think it will be an average crop. Nothing spectacular,” he says.

Jim Broten is a barley producer in Dazey, N.D., on the southern fringe of the state’s main barley-growing area.

He says the first barley fields he harvested were planted on relatively poor soil and didn’t yield well. But yields improved on fields with better soil, he says.

Barley once was a common crop in North Dakota and western Minnesota. But competition from other crops and grower dissatisfaction with prices have led farmers to cut back sharply on barley acreage or to quit growing it altogether.

Broten has grown barley since 1964. He says new varieties and simplified weed-control practices have made growing the crop easier and more enjoyable.

“The problem with barley is, the prices sometimes aren’t what we’d like,” he says.

He and other growers say that barley has become a specialty crop grown under contract on a limited number of acres.