Seeding slow in North Dakota

U.S. crops | Growing conditions and prices make wheat unattractive

FARGO, North Dakota — A sickly sheen shines off the surface of scores of saturated eastern North Dakota farm fields, making a drive from Winnipeg to Fargo last week an exercise in not seeing farm machinery move.

Seeding progress is much delayed in significant patches of eastern North Dakota as cold, soaking rains caused some soils to become saturated. But other nearby areas are doing well.

“It’s a real mixed bag,” said Conor Smith of the North Dakota Farm Bureau during a drive around the Fargo and Breckenridge, Minnesota areas.

“Some people have almost nothing in. Others are almost finished.”

Wheat acreage on the eastern edge of North Dakota is already imperiled because of poor returns versus corn, but this year saturation and cold might mean many acres that would have been planted by wheat loyalists will be lost.

One of the nearly finished farmers in the area was Tom Christensen, whose local area was dry enough at the right times to get almost all of his crop in.

“I have one hour left, but now we have rain,” said Christensen.

But in some parts of eastern North Dakota farmers didn’t start seeding until May 26, and almost immediately had to quit because of an onslaught of drizzly or heavy rain.

By this time of the year most fields should have a thick green flush of growth, but most fields from the Canadian border to Fargo are still bare. In pockets, that bareness conceals a crop that has been planted and will soon emerge, but in other areas it reveals farmland not seeded and which might not be sown this year.

Crop insurance deadlines are approaching and some are already past, so time is not on farmers’ sides.

But just over the border in Minnesota and to the southeast, green crops are emerging and conditions look good. Crops are late, but not dangerously so, and wheat can be seen on a few fields in this primarily corn and soybean region.

Wheat has been fighting a losing battle in Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, as the increasing popularity and profitability of corn-soybeans routs almost all other crops, but around Breckenridge and some other towns a symbiotic relationship has developed between wheat and sugar beets.

The area used to grow mostly wheat, but the crop’s failure to keep up with corn yield gains means few farmers now grow it unless they also grow sugar beets. Diseases and weeds that plague beets can survive through corn and soybean parts of the rotation, but inserting a wheat crop breaks the cycle, so many sugar beet growers always seed wheat before beets.

But for the remaining acreage in eastern North Dakota, where farmers still occasionally choose to grow the crop because it might make money, hard red spring wheat is having a tough time.

Some farmers might have none at all this year, even if they made the uncommon choice of trying to grow it.

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