North Dakota grew a record amount of corn in 2012, and, as of late March, farmers in the state planned to plant half a million more acres to corn this year than last year.
But no one should start altering the record books quite yet, because those projections came out before anyone realized that winter would hang on well into April.
Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, said farmers had planned on planting 4.1 million acres to corn in the state, up from 3.6 million acres in 2012 and 2.6 million in 2011.
“However, with this colder weather, we certainly think that number will be below 4 million, as of right now,” he said. “We certainly think we would come close to last year’s number, even though it is a wet spring.”
Recent snowstorms and cold temperatures have pushed back the expected start date for field work in North Dakota. In late March, the estimated statewide average was expected to be April 22. The North Dakota Crop Progress and Condition report released Monday moved the date to May 2.
National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Ayd said southwestern and south central North Dakota farmers may be in the fields by early May; for those in the rest of the state, that seems unlikely.
Part of the reason for the delay in planting is the mid-April blizzard that dropped more than a foot and a half of snow in some parts of the state, including the Bismarck area. Statewide snow cover was 10.4 inches, according to the crop progress report. The same week in 2012, farmers already had been in the field for almost two weeks, on average.
More than just snow is keeping tractors from rolling through North Dakota. Average high temperatures for the Bismarck area this time of year are nearly 60 degrees, but the highs for much of April have remained in the 30s. Ayd said Jamestown, Fargo and Grand Forks haven’t hit 50 degrees even once this year, marking the latest warm up in any of the three cities. Bismarck, which had a 69- degree day in early April, mostly has hovered in the 30s in recent weeks.
The chilly spring temperatures have kept the soil from warming up. According to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, soil temperatures in the state are mostly in the low 30s. Germination requires soil temperatures at least in the 50s.
The cool, wet spring has some farmers worried about when they’ll be able to get in the field and whether they’ll have to change their planting plans when they do.
North Dakota’s 2012 corn crop was 422 million bushels. It had been a good year for growing conditions: farmers got in the fields early, so the crop matured and dried in a timely fashion.
Corn grown for grain has to be planted by May 25 in all but the southeastern corner of the North Dakota, where it can be planted until May 31, to qualify for full federal crop insurance coverage. Corn for silage must be planted by June 5. But Lilja said seed should be in the ground even earlier for the best outcome.
“Typically, the yield losses will occur after the 20th of May,” he said.
In addition to lower yields, later planted corn is more likely to be wet in the fall, leading to handling concerns, Lilja said.
Ayd said the good news is that a warm up does appear to be in the works. By Thursday or Friday, temperatures should start to stay near normal. And some melting should be happening even when the temperature stays below 32 degrees.
“Even when our temperatures aren’t that warm, we’re still melting because the sun is so strong,” he said.
Ayd expects the snow to melt fairly quickly, especially in Bismarck and other parts of south central and southwestern North Dakota, where the only snow on the ground is from the recent blizzard. In places like Minot, Jamestown and throughout the Red River Valley, where the snowpack never melted, it could take a while longer for the snow to disappear. Ayd explained that snow that has been on the ground for awhile gets compacted and is colder, thus harder to melt.
Additionally, producers in the Souris and Red River basins also may have to deal with some flooding. Ayd said the whole process — from snow melt to flooding to soil drying to soil warming up — may not be quick.
“For some places, I think it’s going to be significantly delayed,” he said.
Lilja said he has heard concerns that some producers may have trouble getting corn planted this year, especially for farms in northern parts of the state. But, modern equipment means planting goes faster, leaving more room for error.
“The good news is, we can plant a lot of corn in a seven or a 10 day period, if we get good conditions,” he said.