After late start, growers pleased with progress so far

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GRAND FORKS—Despite some early delays and dry conditions in large parts of the state, farmers in the northern Red River Valley are optimistic about crop yields this season.

"Everything is slightly late as we had a little bit of a late thaw," Dylan Karley, a Johnstown, N.D., farmer, said. "Overall though, I would say that with land conditions, crop conditions, everything like that, it's probably one of the better springs we've had in the last few years. Slightly behind but doing better than we have."

Tim Kozojed, a farmer in the Hillsboro, N.D., area, said that even though the planting of his corn was delayed by roughly two to three weeks because of frost, it will not necessarily affect the quality or yield if there is a "nice, warm summer."

"It's not the end of the world in my opinion because really the weather in July and August is what's going to make our corn crop," Kozojed said.

Kozojed has finished planting his corn crop, and the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture crop progress report stated that 62 percent of North Dakota's corn has been planted as of Monday, May 21. This is compared to 67 percent, which has been the average at the same time of year between 2013-2017. In Minnesota, 77 percent of the corn has been planted, compared to an average of 84 percent. Though they got off to a late start, growers have been able to make up substantial ground in the past week.

Kozojed would be more concerned if the corn appeared to be having a difficult time growing. However, he has already observed some emergence in his fields, meaning the corn will not lose its "early season punch."

"If you're getting cool nights, cooling overnight, you're not getting that much growing going on in that time period anyway," Kozojed said. "The nice warm soils that we have to seed into right now are going to help the crop move along a little bit faster."

Duane Maatz, executive director of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, said 100 percent of the region's sugar beet crop has been planted, but there is some concern about dry conditions.

"We have to look at cycles," Maatz said. "We seem like we've gone from some extreme wet in 2015 and more in '16. We dried out in most areas a little bit in '17, so if the trend is for drier, you know that's a concern of ours."

According to the USDA crop progress report, 10 percent of North Dakota topsoil is "very short" in moisture, and 34 percent is "short." Fourteen percent of North Dakota subsoil is "very short" in moisture and 24 percent is "short." However, the areas currently most affected by drought are in the central northern and western regions of the state. Minnesota fares much better with only 14 percent of its topsoil and 8 percent of its subsoil being classified as "very short" or "short."

"We still need rain to finish off the crop," Maatz said. "Last year we got rain two weeks before our main harvest, and it gave us an incredible amount of tons. Sugar beets need a fair amount of water as well."

Kendall Nichols, director of research for the North Dakota Soybean Council, said that while soybeans' timetable has not been as affected by frost delays as other crops, farmers still are concerned about the possibility of uneven emergence. Because some areas look like they will be drier than others, some soybeans might sprout up much faster and complicate the timing of herbicide application.

"They usually even out by fall, but there'll be some plants that will be struggling all year long," Nichols said. "Any time you have uneven emergence, it will hold your yield down."

As of Monday, 33 percent of North Dakota's soybean crop had been planted, and 1 percent had begun to emerge. Forty-eight percent of Minnesota's soybean crop was planted and 3 percent had emerged.

"The crops are coming up," Nichols said. "The ones that got in early are looking good at this point, and there's a long growing season left."