It's been a rough spring and summer for farmers in northwest North Dakota, and fall is turning out to be no different. While combines are out in force in area fields, there's a lot less crop to harvest than most had hoped.
Grand Buck, Ward County Farm Service Agency executive director, said the weather has finally started helping farmers for once and is allowing them to get into their fields.
"Guys are moving along pretty well," Buck said. "Weather's been cooperative, it's drying out. I think guys are getting going on spring wheat."
Buck said the spring wheat harvest is nearly half done, while canola is more than half done and barley is nearly finished.
Farmers probably won't take too long getting their harvest in this year, which has more to do with a dearth of planted crop than an abundance of good weather.
"Unfortunately for Ward County there wasn't a lot of acreage in this year because of all the prevent plant, so when it is ready those crops probably won't take a lot of time to get harvested," Buck said.
He hasn't heard about any quality issues as of yet, but said yields have already proven to be less than ideal for many farmers.
"Producers, I think, are maybe a little disappointed that the yields probably aren't going to be above average," Buck said. "We're probably looking at an average yield this year. A lot of factors came into play later seeding, wet conditions, humidity and whatnot. It probably created some disease problems. I think yields were suffering from that.
Buck sees this harvest as an average one. He said there's more potential with soybeans, sunflowers and corn, while flax could be average or better.
Although prices at the elevator are good, many farmers just don't have enough crop to take advantage, which is disheartening to say the least after such a difficult year.
"Overall with the commodity prices being as good as they are, I think guys that have crop planted are probably going to be a little disappointed with their yields," Buck said.
Connie Jerome, Sheridan County FSA executive director, said the wheat harvest is about 80 percent complete. Barley is at 95 percent, canola is 80 to 90 percent done, and farmers are just starting to harvest flax and oats.
Although the harvest of several crops is getting close to completion, Jerome said things haven't exactly gone smoothly early on.
"People kind of needed the wheat to dry down a little bit so they jumped over on the canola to see if that was going to work for them better, and it did," Jerome said. "So now they've got to go back on the wheat."
She said this wasn't really surprising considering all the wet weather.
"We knew it wasn't going to dry down, so the dryers and air bins have been running quite constantly," Jerome said.
The quantity per commodity is varying quite a bit from area to area within the county, she said. Jerome said the good and bad areas are pretty random, and depended entirely on the weather and topography.
As for quality, Jerome hasn't heard much one way or the other at this point.
"Earlier this spring there was a concern about disease, and I think the majority of our guys got out there with a sprayer," Jerome said. "You know, it all depends on the timing of everything out there."
Overall, Jerome said her crystal ball is really foggy when it comes to seeing how the harvest will ultimately turn out. With no real surprises so far, things are going about as well as she figured they would.
"A year like this I don't hold high expectations, and that way I don't get disappointed," Jerome said. "But we can always hope for the best, and that's what they're in business for. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I'm just hoping the market will help out if there is a yield deprivation."
Marcy Feilmeier, McKenzie County Farm Service Agency executive director, said her county had a "whole bunch" of prevent plant this year, and harvest is going slow due to all the wet weather. She said some yields are coming in pretty low, depending on when the crop was seeded.
"I hear yields as low as 10 (bushels per acre) on wheat, some as high as 30," Feilmeier said. "But we've been getting rain here during harvest so those who were yielding decently that had decent quality, now with the rains it's going to be bleached, so the quality's going to be decreased quite a bit."
Feilmeier wasn't expecting a very good harvest, and the limited information she's been able to collect in the early going shows that's what many farmers are getting. She said it will be a below average harvest this year for sure.
"There were just too many days of wet weather and not enough growing season days, not enough warm days," Feilmeier said. "We didn't think we would have a very good yield, and the few that are getting some decent yields are now starting to get impacted with the quality issues because of a couple shots of rain that we've had recently here. Nobody really expected it to be a bumper crop, and it's kind of proving to be that way."
Melissa Stutrud, McHenry County Farm Service Agency executive director, said wheat and barley are well on their way to being harvested, while yields are all over the place depending on how much drown out there was.
"Pretty decent test weight, around 59 pounds (per bushel), protein I've heard 16 (percent)," Stutrud said. "But the yield, like I said, that varies depending on how much they were able to get in and how much of it is drowned out."
The wheat harvest in McHenry is probably around 80 percent done, while barley is between 50 to 80 percent done. Those are the two main crops in McHenry. Stutrud said the oats harvest has probably started as well, but she hasn't talked to anyone with oats yet because the acres were so low across the county.
So far Stutrud said harvest has been going pretty well, as conditions have been good. She noted haying is probably 80 percent done, although the early quality could be better.
"Anything they put up lately hasn't had any rain on it," Stutrud said. "Most of the first production that was put up, almost everything, first-cutting alfalfa, most of that hay has rain on it so the quality probably isn't going to be as good as it should be."
The quality of wheat and barley has been hurt a little. Scab in the wheat is around 3 percent, while vomitoxin in the barley is around 1.2 percent. Stutrud also noted some aflatoxin that has led to pretty serious discounts.
"Hopefully once we get further along with harvest we'll be able to mix some of that off. Hopefully it's just certain fields," Stutrud said. "Good protein, good test weight, that hasn't been an issue that I've heard of so far."
The disease wasn't entirely unexpected. Stutrud said they knew there would be quality issues based on when the rains came and for how long of a period they continued. She also said farmers had difficulty applying proper chemicals because the rains kept coinciding with the best times to spray.
Early rains led to drown out and inopportune rains later on led to disease issues, meaning below average yields and quality issues are foreshadowing a poor harvest.
"Especially in a year where there's finally a (good) price, it's unfortunate," Stutrud said.
She also said producers are scrambling to find enough hay in McHenry County, with some even going into Mountrail County for it. Anyone that can't round up enough forage will probably be forced to sell some or all of their herd, Stutrud said.
"Not a good year for producers in McHenry County," she said. "Very devastating."