This spring, rain and a bit of hail battered northwest North Dakota and kept farmers out of the fields for days or even weeks at a time.
Grant Buck, executive director of the Ward County Farm Service Agency, said this is the second straight year wet weather has hampered spring planting in Ward County, although he noted it is still unusual to get as much rain as there was.
With a similar amount of rain compared to last year, he expects the number of prevent plant acres in the county to be similar as well, although he said it's too early to have any specific numbers for this year.
Dan Feldner/MDN --
This field west of Minot was looking good Monday afternoon except for a large area of standing water that couldn’t be planted and still bears tracks of a vehicle that drove through some time ago. Even when the standing water dries out, it is often still too muddy to get a tractor or other piece of equipment through without tearing up the field.
"Last year we had 81,000 (acres), which is maybe right around 11, 12 percent of the cropland in Ward County that was not planted," Buck said. "This year I would expect to be at least equal to last year, if not maybe a little higher."
If acres cannot be planted by the planting date which is established by insurance companies due to a natural disaster such as excessive rainfall, farmers can claim them in hopes of being reimbursed at a rate according to their policy.
The FSA isn't involved in the insurance side of prevent plant, but instead keeps track of the acres for historical reasons. If a producer intended to plant wheat but was unable to do so, they are given a history credit indicating wheat was planted on those acres. This credit is given to help producers stay eligible for future programs through the FSA because those programs are based on the prior planting history of the land.
"For crop insurance they have different rules which, certain acreage, there's a minimum that must have been prevented to be eligible. With us, for history purposes, we don't necessarily have a minimum," Buck said. "So even two or three acres, if that's all a person was prevented from planting, we will be able to take that application and consider it planted if it's eligible and approved by the county committee."
Buck said there's prevent plant throughout the county, but the areas hit with big rainfall, such as the Minot area, including south and a little west, the Kenmare area and the gooseneck in the northern part of the county, are all seeing more prevent plant acres.
"Everyone had a little prevent plant last year but this year the Kenmare area is seeing a lot more prevent planting compared to last year. They've got a lot," Buck said. "I haven't been up in that area lately but reports are that there is a lot of water standing."
As for what is done with the acres that can't be planted, it all depends. Obviously if there is standing water then the answer is not much. If the area dries out enough, however, there are a few options.
Even though there is no crop, Buck said weed control is still important so the land is in good condition for the next planting season. This is why prevent plant acres are often sprayed. Another option is to plant a cover crop. This is done to not only keep valuable topsoil from blowing away in the wind, but to also help the land dry out by allowing the cover crop to soak up much of the excess moisture.
"It seems like when you don't have anything out there growing to take that moisture out of the ground, conditions may be even a little more wet," Buck said.
"We have seen that producers that did have prevent plant last year, those areas that didn't get seeded seem to be extremely wet again this year," he added.
He did caution that cover crops can be a sticky situation where insurance companies are concerned, however, so producers need to be careful with what they plant.
"The only thing there is they do have to be a little bit careful with how that would potentially affect their crop insurance payment," he said. "Because they can't put any crop on that prevent plant acreage that would be taken for harvest, whether it be hay or any grain."
Buck has also heard talk that winter wheat might see an increase this fall as producers look for ways to wick the extra moisture out of the ground.
While he doesn't yet know what specific crops will have the most prevent plant acres this year, Buck said it will probably be the ones that are typically predominant in Ward County wheat, sunflowers, canola, and some flax and barley.
Margie Herner, executive director of the Renville County FSA, said they have had heavy rainfall all over the county, but some spots have been worse than others.
"Some of the worst is the western portion, kind of a kitty-corner line from Sherwood, kitty-corner on that side of the Mouse River," Herner said. "And then I know the Glenburn area has been hit pretty good too."
She said the crops farmers have had trouble getting into the ground this spring have kind of been a little of everything, depending on where they were.
It's too early for her to tell what kind of prevent plant acres the county will have, but Herner said it's looking to be quite a bit definitely higher than a normal year.
That's an assessment LoAyne Voigt, Renville County Extension agent, agrees with.
"We definitely had areas that really suffered and didn't get a lot of crops seeded. You might have a 160-acre field and probably only 90 acres that you can get at to seed. It really makes it a challenge to weave in and out and from spot to spot in a field getting only the higher areas seeded," Voigt said. "There was a considerable amount of prevent plant in the county. And that in combination with drowned out areas, I'm guessing we're somewhere in that neighborhood of 20 percent of cropland that won't be harvested."
Herner said the last time she visited fields in the area, crop conditions ran the gamut from looking good and green to yellow with too much moisture.
"Some of the stuff that got in early was looking really good," Herner said. "Stuff where it was in water, that was starting to show the stress already, starting to turn yellow from too much water, so it varies."
She did note recent warm weather was helping the situation by drying things up a bit.
"Some warm sunny growing weather is what we need, then I think we can have some pretty decent crops," Herner said. "The areas that got seeded right before we got those hard rains was crusted over so I don't even know if those came up. It's kind of all over the board."
About the only thing Herner said she is sure of is that it's going to be a mess managing all those prevent plant acres.
Marcy Feilmeier, executive director for the McKenzie County FSA, said the entire county has been hit with excess moisture. Although she doesn't yet have any specific numbers, so far she said spring wheat and durum look like the two crops hit hardest with prevent plant acres.
This is in stark contrast to a normal year in McKenzie County, when there are literally no prevent plant acres to speak of.
"Normally, McKenzie County, we have a lack of moisture," Feilmeier said. "We don't ever typically have prevent plant claims. If they do claim prevent plant, generally the county committee hasn't approved them because 99.9 percent of producers in the county have got everything seeded, it's just a handful that didn't. So this year is an exception to the norm where we actually do have some legitimate prevent plant claims. We're generally dry."
Although planting was a little late, she said the crops look good overall. That could all change, of course, with the appearance of yet more rain or even worse weather.
"It looks good if we don't get any hailstorms," Feilmeier said. "We have had a few go through the area where a couple places have been wiped out, but some of the crops should come back."
Melissa Stutrud, executive director for the McHenry County FSA, estimates they will have similar prevent plant acres compared to last year, possibly a bit more. In 2009, she said they submitted more than 66,000 acres.
"That would be my best estimate at this point, but again we're only 50 percent, maybe a little bit less than 50 percent reported," Stutrud said.
Much like McKenzie County, Stutrud said all of McHenry County has seen excess moisture this spring. Areas north of U.S. Highway 2, including Granville and Willow Creek Township, have seen more than their fair share of rain, as has the Velva area.
"I would say those areas primarily, but overall the whole county has been affected," Stutrud said.
Prevent plant acreage wasn't limited to one or two crops in McHenry County, but occurred across a slew of them, according to Stutrud.
"Anything that they would be seeding like about the middle of May and beyond, those are the crops that were affected the most severely," she said. "But it's been everything - we've had soybeans, wheat, flax, canola, all of those have been affected. That's primarily the reports coming in, even some oats."
It started raining often enough to affect planting decisions beginning in mid-May, and Stutrud said producers who started planting early enough were able to get more acreage in. Unfortunately, many didn't start planting until later.
"There's some of these areas where they don't start until early May or mid-May, and those people, it's just been rain, rain, rain since then and they haven't been able to get in," she said. "That or what they did get in is under water. So we've got quite a bit of failed acreage too."
Despite these setbacks Stutrud said the crop looks good overall, and she expects an above-average yield from the crops that actually got planted and managed to survive the tremendous rainfall.
"It seems we're finally getting some sunshine and not a lot of it looks sick except where it's really saturated and has been for quite some time," she said. "But overall it looks like a good crop."
If Stutrud fears anything raining on her parade, it would be the threat of disease brought on by all the excess moisture. She also noted there might be more weeds for the crops to contend with because producers haven't been able to get into the fields to spray.
A little sunshine could go a long way in drying things up and helping the crops stay disease free, as well as allowing farmers access to the fields so they can spray, she said.
In Bottineau County, the west was hit hardest by rain, according to Jessica Steidl, FSA executive director.
Similar to other counties in northwest North Dakota, Steidl said it was the later crops that suffered more prevent plant acres, while crops seeded earlier in the spring had a higher planting rate.
"Those producers that got their crops in the end of April, beginning of May were able to seed the majority of their crops compared to those who seeded later," Steidl said. "Anything after about mid-May, anything that got seeded after that time had more prevent plant."
Steidl did have some preliminary numbers on prevent plant acreage. As of June 22, there was 21,945 prevent plant acres, a whopping 40 percent of the total of 52,688 acres from 2009. Steidl did stress this is for reported prevent plants acres this year, not approved, so the number of approved prevent plant acres could very well be different from what is initially reported.
She mentioned in all of 2008, which was a dry year, there were only 300 prevent plant acres. She did note the crop was below average that year, however.
The crops with the largest number of reported prevent plant acres in Bottineau County so far include spring wheat with 140 prevent plant requests totaling 6,321 acres, oil sunflowers with 73 requests for 6,150 acres, canola with 64 requests for 3,504 acres, durum with 30 requests for 2,500 acres, and barley with 53 requests for 1,292 acres.
Steidl's outlook on Bottineau County's crop this year is about as gloomy as the weather. Although things could undoubtedly be worse, she sees the crop coming in below average this year due to the constant rain. It has not only prevented tens of thousands of acres from being planted, but there is also the possibility that it will drown out the crop on many more.
"It has stayed pretty wet out there, it hasn't quit raining," she said. "Even the acres that did get seeded, the early seeded acres, we do have a possibility of having several acres of failed (crops)."
"Several areas did get seeded that now are under water," she added.