For some farmers, the wait is over as they've finally been able to make their first tire tracks in the field this spring. But other growers are still awaiting their chance even as the critical preventive planting dates loom.
In Ward County and the surrounding area, many producers are among those who wait and wonder.
"You can't make a seed grow in mud and it's a disaster if you try. When you get into this business, you have a boss called Mother Nature. You can't control her, you can only work around her," said Larry Widdel, who operates the family ranch and also grows a variety of crops near Sawyer with his farm partner Dan Turchscherer. "It's very wet and there's a lot of standing water. The one inch of rain (the area received the last week of April) put all the places drying up back under water."
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN --
A farmer maneuvers a tractor around standing water while working down last year’s sunflower stubble on a field near Glenburn Tuesday.
Predominately flax growers, Widdel said low prices have caused them to switch to more durum, sunflowers and soybeans with the potential for some barley or oats. With one-pass planting, he said they will be ready to go when Mother Nature decides to give them four or five consecutive days of warm, windy weather.
While waiting for those days to come, Widdel said he has used the "extra" time to concentrate on his cattle operation, but the juggling of cattle and crop duties adds to his overall challenges.
"With a couple hundred head of cattle, there's never a rest. I get up in the morning and I'm a year behind. I've always got 10 things to do instead of two, so you never catch up," Widdel said.
Some of those extra duties are courtesy of Mother Nature herself, who repeatedly ravaged the landscape over the past months.
"The infrastructure is shot because of the weather. Roads are terrible and there are miles of fences to fix," Widdel said. He added that the poor roads have made ii difficult to move machinery and the broken fences on the farm and in the fields have delayed them from putting cattle out to pasture.
In agreement are Scott Backes and his brother, Rick, who farm several thousand acres across Ward County.
"The roads are flooded east of Minot and the road beds are so soft that you can't move semitrailers or air seeders over them," Backes said.
The team also has 850 acres near Lake Darling that is not going to be seeded because more than 40 percent of it remains under water. Having put down fertilizer last fall, Backes said he is already out more than $20,000 this year.
"The water is so deep and in places that haven't had that before - it's like nothing I've ever seen," Backes said. "There are some spots where you could put a boat with a motor out and go all across my fields."
As preventative planting dates, crop insurance deadlines draw closer, Backes said many producers are weighing the decisions of what to plant, when and under what conditions as well as the where to draw the line.
"Prevent plant (payments) on wheat and barley don't pay the bills, but it's becoming more about the lesser of two evils with seed and fertilizer costs versus planting and low-quality discounts," Backes said. "It's not over yet but the odds are starting to turn against us with each day that passes. When you see nothing but lakes, it's hard to get ambitious about anything."
Farther north, the message is the same.
The first weekend in May saw Mark Solberg, a small grains, canola and pea farmer near Carbury, picking rocks and harrowing canola stubble and weeds in some of his drier fields.
"There's plenty of moisture out here. The deep potholes are full of water and everything's pretty spongy," he said.
Roads in and around the Carbury area saw only minimal overland flooding and are in good condition, Solberg said, which is good news for area producers moving grain or machinery in preparation of an elusive start date.
"The problem right now is that we haven't started and it's May. Next Monday will be May 11 and I won't be able to start by then," Solberg said. "Time is going too fast and May is flying by. I try not to worry about the calendar but sometimes you can't help it."
Depending on rain, he said he would work hard to get his crop in by mid-May.
While some continue to struggle with what Mother Nature's wrath left behind, other producers are happily getting their hands dirty or are preparing to do so. Gerald and Christine Gillund, small grain and legume farmers near Wildrose, made their 2009 planting debut on Monday with field peas.
"Gerald has had to seed around some wet spots and there's still some standing water, but he's out there," Gillund said. "We got a lot of snow (this past year) but we were happy to see it because the land was dry and we definitely needed this moisture in the northwest part of the state."
With planting having been delayed a couple of weeks, Gillund said they were able to do the usual springtime rituals of yard work, picking up broken tree limbs, fixing odds-and-ends, moving grain and attending their son's high school activities, but with a specialty allergen-specific soapmaking business also on the farm, things have remained hectic.
"Life is always busy on the farm, between moving snow this winter, planting now and the (soapmaking) factory business, so we don't see a lot of downtime," Gillund said.
Also keeping busy is Dan Johannes, a rancher and oats farmer near Underwood.
While waiting for his own fields to dry, Johannes has been busy with his mobile grain cleaning service, cleaning peas, wheat, flax and barley for area farmers.
"It's been crazy. The machine has been running steady and we've had to use floodlights because we'll be out there 'til 10 or 11 o'clock at night," Johannes said. "I'm going crazy trying to get chores done. The nights are getting shorter and the days are getting longer, but you just get up in the morning and go for it."
In addition to preparing to plant his oat crops which he hopes to have done by mid-May he has also been stringing and repairing fencelines damaged by the winter and springtime snowstorms, which at one point produced 12-foot snowbanks in his feedlots.
"The fields are drying up pretty good, but you still need scuba gear in some of these feedlots," Johannes joked.
With all of the moisture, he said he is optimistic about both his crops and livestock with good starting conditions for his oats and the potential for good pasture with ample grass and a quality hay crop.
Even with all of the hardships experienced this year, the overall optimistic attitude of North Dakota producers reigns supreme.
"There's days when it's kinda fun," Widdell said. "If you have a job that's 70 percent good and 30 percent bad, then you can't complain about that."