Growers Race to Beat Weather

Published online: Oct 09, 2019 News Ann Bailey
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Source: The Dickinson Press

Mud churned under tires on Monday as farmers across northwestern North Dakota and northeastern Minnesota stormed their fields with combines, potato harvesters and sugarbeet lifters in an all-out effort to get crops out of the field before the next round of precipitation hits.

Rain amounts that have totaled in the double digits have fallen during the past month, muddying fields and soaking grain and row crops. Harvest since early September has been one of fits and starts, and producers on Monday took advantage of the drying wind and sun to get back into fields, some of them so muddy farmers used tracked combines to navigate through them.

“This is the worst harvest I’ve ever experienced by far,” said Randy Mehloff, director of North Dakota State University’s Langdon Research & Extension Center.

“We’ve had 10 inches of rain in the past month,” said Mehloff, director of the center since 2000. The rain would have been welcome earlier this growing season because Cavalier County, N.D., was dry during the spring and summer, he noted.

“It just all came during harvest,” he said.

Since early September, farmers in northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota haven’t been able to string together more than a couple of days of combining, and about one-third of Cavalier County’s 300,000 acres of canola remains in the field, Mehloff estimated. Cavalier County is the largest canola producer in the United States.

Typically, the canola harvest is finished by early October and Cavalier County farmers would now be waiting for their soybean fields to dry down for harvest, Mehloff said.

Statewide, 69 percent of North Dakota’s canola was harvested as of Sunday, Oct. 6, well behind the average of 98 percent, the National Agricultural Statistics Service-North Dakota estimated.

South of Cavalier a few miles, an 11-man harvest crew from Olsen Custom Farms, of Hendricks, Minn., was waiting early Monday afternoon, six combines and two semi-tractor trailers at the ready, to find out the moisture content of a canola sample.

The crew arrived in Langdon in early September but had been idled by rain for half of the time since, said Rosco Becker, one of the combine drivers.

The canola sample was dry, and the crew was going full force by 2 p.m.

So were dozens of other farmers between Langdon and Grand Forks. Potato and sugar’beet trucks rolled up and down highways between the two cities, and dust swirled in soybean fields as farmers worked to get as much done as they could before the next round of precipitation that’s expected to begin falling mid-week.

West of Manvel, N.D., two combines were leaving muddy ruts in a canola field as their drivers worked to find parts of the field dry enough to combine.

Not only rain but also significant snowfall is possible this week, further putting a wrench into harvest.

“Any wheat that’s left out there right now, it won’t be any good,” he said.

Canola that’s swathed may not get damaged by snow, but, if it’s standing, the snow may break the canola and also cause the seeds to shell out of the plants, Mehloff said.

Sugarbeets, potatoes, edible beans, soybeans and corn, meanwhile, have been harvested after snows before — as recently as last year, when a storm dropped as much as 17 inches of snow in some parts of northeast North Dakota.

The challenge will be getting into the fields, which are already saturated. How low temperatures dip also will be an important factor in determining whether there will be a reduction in the quality of sugarbeets and potatoes. Those crops can usually withstand temperature readings into the low 20s without sustaining damage.