FISHER, Minn. — Paul Wagner on May 6 pulled into a field with his red and white Case tractor, vertical tillage machine in tow, for the first time this spring.
Wagner, from Fisher, is one of a handful of northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota farmers whose fields have been dry enough to support farm equipment. Wagner spent part of May 6 incorporating fertilizer into a 30-acre field.
After a long winter and a cold, wet spring, it was good to be working in the field, Wagner said.
“I’ve been waiting to get back in the tractor and play in the mud a little bit,” he said.
Wagner hopes to plant wheat within a few days.
“Hopefully, it warms up a little bit. We don’t need rain anytime soon,” he said.
The forecast for the next several days is for dry and cool weather. Highs are expected to be in the mid- to upper-50s and lows in the low- to upper-30s, according to the National Weather Service.
In Minnesota, 2.1 percent of the state’s wheat had been planted as of the week ending May 5, compared with 13 percent last year and the five-year average of 37 percent, according to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service.
In Polk County, little field work has been done, said Heather Dufault, agricultural extension educator for Polk, Red Lake and Clearwater counties in Minnesota.
“These guys are trying to scratch and open the ground up and get some air down,” she said.
Dufault had heard no reports of farmers in east Polk County who had been seeding, she said.
“The farmers are super edgy. They’re getting very antsy and they’re ready to go,” Dufault said.
It’s much the same story west of Crookston near Eldred, Minn., where little progress has been made in the field.
Farmers did a little tilling about 10 days ago, but then it rained and farm equipment has been idle, said Danny Grunewald, Farmers Elevator Co. manager in Eldred.
“It’s way later than usual,” he said.
Farmers are concerned about the setback, but should be able to quickly catch up once the weather warms, Grunewald said.
“If it doesn’t rain this week and if we can get the temperatures up in the 60s and if it stays sunny, we’ll have guys going,” Grunewald said.
Warm temperatures are needed not only to dry the soil, but to increase soil temperatures. On May 6, the North Dakota Agricultural Network recorded average bare soil temperatures of 42 degrees at its Grand Forks station. The historic average is 48 degrees.
The minimum soil temperature at which wheat should be planted is 40 degrees, the NDSU Extension Service said. Meanwhile, the minimum temperature for corn, soybeans and dry edible beans is 50 degrees. Optimal soil temperatures for all four crops are about five to 10 degrees warmer, the extension service said.
Across the Red River in North Dakota, the combination of last year’s wet fall and a cold, wet spring this year has delayed planting in the Mayville area, said Jason Parenteau, Mayport (N.D.) Farmers Co-Op manager.
“They haven’t been able to get in at all,” Parenteau said. “They were a couple of days away when we got that last blast of rain.”
Farmers hoped to get into the field by the end of the week, Parenteau said.
“I don’t think that much will be planted right away, but there is field work that can be done,” he said.
While field work in neighboring Grand Forks County also has been minimal, further north in Walsh County, it is under way.
“There are a fair amount of guys going on the lighter soil, if you go north of Park River toward Hoople,” said Tom Burchill, Walsh Grain Terminal LLC manager in Park River, N.D.
Farmers in the Hoople, N.D., area have seeded potatoes, sugar beets and wheat, he said.
“They’re a little behind normal, but it’s not extremely late by any means,” Burchill said. “We’re optimistic that we can get a lot in this week.”
The weather will be a key factor for the crops of farmers across the region. With today’s large equipment, a lot of grain and row crops can be planted in a short amount of time. That would help stem yield losses.
“We can still have a nice crop; it just depends on what Mother Nature throws at us for the rest of the year,” Grunewald said.
But if it rains and farmers are again delayed, that could result in yield reduction for crops such as wheat.
“It’s getting to be pretty late for wheat and some of the cool-season crops,” said Katelyn Hain, Nelson County (N.D.) extension agent. “The earlier you get them in, the better. They grow better when it’s earlier.”
Statewide in North Dakota, 13 percent of the wheat had been planted as of the week ending May 5, compared with 18 percent last year and the five-year average of 37 percent, the North Dakota Agricultural Statistics Service said.