Farmers digging in

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Farm Forum

With spring in the air, South Dakota farmers are turning their attention to the ground.

Though still early in the process, some growers in the northeastern and north-central parts of the state have begun planting. Many more are expected to start in the coming weeks.

“In my area, quite a few guys are getting starting,” said Ross Ulmer, of Frederick, who serves as South Dakota Farmers Bureau president for Brown County. “I would say (as of April 23) that there are a few thousand acres already planted in the area. Not everyone has ground fit right now, but, by (this) week, 80 percent or better of farmers will be out doing tillage work or planting.”

Statewide, small grains are predictably leading the way among crops already planted with 37 percent of the oats crop in. That’s above the five-year average of 34 percent for this time of year. And 17 percent of the spring wheat crop seeded, according to the latest numbers produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which were released April 21.

Pace of planting

About 6 percent of the state’s projected barley crop has been planted, which puts the crop about equal with its 2013 pace, but still below the five-year average, according to the latest weekly crop report.

“What I’m also seeing with my neighbors is more beans being planted,” Ulmer said. “There’s more income with corn, but it takes more capital to raise corn, too. Corn prices are down, but have come back a little in the last six weeks or so — it was a buck cheaper than what it is now.”

Lynn Deibert, Campbell County farmer, said he began planting what will be several hundred acres of spring wheat last week.

“It was too cold before (last) week, but it’s been good the past few days. We haven’t had much trouble,” Deibert said. “There’s adequate moisture for it to come up. Grain prices are pretty average right now, I think, and interest rates are still pretty low. We had heard that there would be problems getting fertilizer this spring because of the oil situation in North Dakota, and our trains being behind. I haven’t run into any problems yet, but (BNSF Railway) just needs to get more power on the rail lines, I think.”

In an email sent on April 24, Amy Casas, BNSF spokesperson, stated that the railroad is working toward a fix for the logistical backlog putting a pinch on the ag community.

“We have filed a formal plan with the Surface Transportation Board,” Casas said. “We expect to move 52 train loads of fertilizer over a six-week period via BNSF-direct unit train service, which is the most efficient way to get the maximum volume of fertilizer to agricultural destinations served by BNSF.”

John Sumption, a Frederick area farmer, said on April 24 he’s been busy planting spring wheat, a crop that he said could be a “bright spot” this year and hopes to begin planting corn this week, if the weather cooperates.

“We’ve had a dry spring and that can be an advantage, but I’m still a little concerned about the cold. There’s still a lot of frost in the ground,” Sumption said. “We’ll need some rain later, of course, but it’s looking like a decent year. Conditions are good, so we’ll see what happens.”

As far as concerns receiving fertilizer, Sumption said he’s seen “a ton” of fertilizer on the ground and being spread in his area and added that he’s had no problem this spring with fertilizer logistics.

Logistical concerns

South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke, who farms near Conde, said there are still legitimate concerns about fertilizer shipments.

“I talked to two of my neighbors who were put on a list to get fertilizer as soon as the co-op gets more in because the type they were spreading was not available for a week,” Sombke said. “For the most part, farmers who pre-paid for their fertilizer are getting it. I know of at least two cooperatives who supply fertilizer who are very concerned about getting fertilizer in on time. Moving forward, I’d say our concerns are being addressed by the Surface Transportation Board and our congressional delegation, but I’m not certain BNSF and CP (Canadian Pacific Railway) are being truthful about their efforts to fully address the issue of oil shipments over agriculture shipments.”

The USDA’s latest numbers show that about 1 percent of South Dakota’s corn crop, projected to be close to 5.8 million acres this year, is in. That’s ahead of last year’s pace, according to the latest crop progress report. Mainly because of price concerns and competition for rail transport service, however, the crop has a cloud of uncertainty hovering over it, according to Deibert.

“There’s a business opportunity for the haulers because they know there’s going to be oil to haul,” Deibert said. “I can see the business side of that, but we need to be able to get grain out of the elevators, get the fertilizer out and just keep ag moving. From what it sounds like, they just don’t have enough people to run the trains.”

So far, the consensus seems to be that conditions are fairly good, enough moisture is in the ground and that area farmers — an apprehensive bunch in general — are satisfied with the way the spring is shaping up. If anything, Sombke said the trend in northeast South Dakota is a slight move toward soybeans and wheat and away from corn.

“There’s nothing at this point that says this isn’t an average spring,” said Carter Anderson, South Dakota’s designated National Agricultural Statistics Service director.

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