March 28, 2012

To seed or not to seed

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

The warm conditions the last couple of weeks have many McKenzie County farmers moving back to their fields earlier than usual.
Calli Thorne, the Agriculture Extension Agent for McKenzie County, knows that the warm, dry winter has many farmers concerned about potential moisture still on the way, whether it is rain or potential freezes.
“People are concerned about the dry winter we’ve been having,” says Thorne. “It could be a tough year for both ranchers and farmers.”
The concerns about the lack of moisture in the last seven months have many wondering whether the area could see any significant precipitation in the next couple of months.
“The top inch or two of most fields is dry and it would be good to see some rain,” says Kent Taylor of Taylor Ag. “But there’s pretty good sub-moisture right now.”
Last week, Taylor reported his company was already spreading fertilizer on winter wheat fields and next week will begin spreading fertilizer on fields to be seeded with spring wheat.
Seeding usually begins in western North Dakota around mid-April. But here it is the end of March and some farmers are readying their fields and beginning to seed.
“This is the earliest by far that I’ve ever seen,” says Bob Wisness, local farmer near Arnegard, about the early season. “I started farming here after college in 1976 and I don’t remember ever starting seeding in March. Everything is in good shape right now and I’m looking forward to a good start.”
Wisness plans to wait for growth on his weeds before a good spray and then begin seeding.
A mild winter and an even easier spring may have some farmers headed to the fields a bit earlier than usual, but not everyone is ready to start just yet.
Andy Mogen of Keene is not worried about dry fields. In fact, he is having the opposite problem. The dry surface conditions that are being seen in parts of McKenzie County, have not yet reached Mogen’s fields.
“I’m not in the field yet,” says Mogen. “I still have fields that are too wet. I nearly got stuck with my pickup checking some of them.”
Along with varying concerns about moisture, seedings are moving at very different speeds across McKenzie County. While Taylor and Wisness think seeding could begin this week, Mogen is waiting at least another week or more to start readying his fields. He will not have any crops in the ground before the official early planting date, April 1 for wheat, as set by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC).
Thorne recommends that farmers keep those insurance start dates in mind when deciding when to seed.
“Farmers need to be aware of insurance policies and what planting before the earliest insurance planting date could do to them,” explains Thorne.
“The risks of losing an early crop are quite high, at least historically,” adds Mogen.
The National Weather Service recently presented data on the warmest winters in North Dakota history and the last freeze dates of those mild winters. Among the top 10 warmest winters across the state, the average last freeze date was May 16.
2012 now ranks anywhere from fourth to eighth across the state on the warmest winters list, but with no data on the last freeze date, which could come as late as mid-May, there is no way to tell how long current conditions could last.
Those jumping into the field before the FCIC’s official early plant date may be pushing the limits, but they will just have to hope any coming freezes occur before their crops have emerged.
“The weather could still change dramatically within the next couple of months, since we know April and May have been known to bring snow and rain,” says Taylor. “But if the current weather pattern continues there is no reason why a person couldn’t begin to seed within the next couple of weeks.”
This year’s crops will largely include the usual spring wheat, durum, barley, peas, lentils, canola, which is expected to rise in price from last year, and the return of safflower.
So while some are pushing to start early and others are waiting to see what happens with the weather and soil conditions, there is no denying that the farming season is underway and earlier than ever.