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Snow For Now, Plant Corn Later?


A Corn E-Digest reader recently wrote to me in response to my editorial, “Flood Now, Drought Later?” which appeared in the March 21, 2011, issue. On April 15, 2011, this reader – who lives and farms in central North Dakota – reports waking up to a 6–in. snowfall.

With his permission, I’m including parts of his correspondence to me over several weeks. Here are some of his initial comments:

“I've listened intently to weather prognosticators over the years talking about these [La Niña] oceanic phenomenons, and I've come to the conclusion that for my area, they are of little consequence. For North Dakota weather, the factor that is much more important than La Niña or El Niño is the location of the northern Jetstream. If the northern jet is south of us, we are highly productive. Generally this means cool and wet. However if the northern jet stream is north of us, we are hot and dry.

"During the last 25 years, the weather reports have moved toward forecasting for the highly populated urban areas. Frankly, if they get a rainy or windy day, it is an irritation at the most – the urban dwellers just need to stay indoors a few more hours. Out here in the rural, food-producing regions, the weather is of vital importance. A poorly forecast rain or wind event can and often does cost us thousands of dollars. Forecasting the weather is not about ratings on television or readership in the periodicals. It is much more about working around the most formidable adversary we have in agriculture – Mother Nature.”

On April 13, the same reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) wrote back to me with this report concerning weather’s impact on North Dakota agriculture:

“We’ve had a reasonably slow melt in most of North Dakota. There is still snow in the tree-row shelter belts and the Sheyenne River still has ice, although it is flowing heavily, with lots of overland flooding. There is a lot of damage to the roads, so just getting to some of the fields is a challenge. As far as getting into the field – I talked with a gentleman from the southern part of the state right near the South Dakota border, who plans to plant corn next week ‘on the high ground.’

“In southwestern North Dakota, where they usually begin planting the first week of April, they are looking at the first week of May. Here in central ND, we won't be doing anything for 20 days, and my friend up north of Devils Lake, in the Cando area, says they need three weeks of ‘good drying weather.’ On my own farm near Harvey, I have 60% of my ground under 12-18 in. of water. That takes a week to run away. After it has run off, it takes another 10 days to get soils fit to till and then finally – if it doesn't rain [or snow] – we can try to get something to grow. Most of this ground should have gone to wheat or corn in 2011, but it will have to be soybeans this year, due to the late season.

“The general consensus from visiting with other area farmers is that we will plant corn up until May 15, wheat up to May 20 or in some cases the 25th and soybeans up to June 10. It should be an interesting 45 days coming up!

“Also, many folks here are wishing they had a crystal ball to know which fertilizers they need. Do we want large amounts of anhydrous for the corn and wheat? Or, do we want more phosphates, because we'll be more into soybeans? There is just an inordinate amount of uncertainty in the minds of every producer I talk with.”

And that was all he wrote before Thursday’s 6-in. snowfall. Now, he reports that planting delays will be about a week longer than what he originally forecast.

If something you see in this or any other Corn E-Digest newsletter sparks an idea that you’d like to share with me or fellow readers, you’re welcome to contact me (John Pocock) at: Thanks for reading.

TAGS: Soybean Corn
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