How the year is shaping up for farmers, ranchers

Eloise Ogden/MDN Most Ward County farmers didn’t get started in the field until early May because of the cold spring and late snow. This photo was taken in the area Sunday, May 6,

Soybean acres have increased significantly in Ward County and the area, says Paige Brummund, Ward County Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent in Minot.

“People to the north and to the west are putting in more acres of soybeans than in previous years. Probably just in the past five years it’s really increased in acreage,” she said.

Contributing to the increase in soybean acres are some improvements in the genetics. “There’s been some new varieties that have been developed that do yield and do well up here in the northern areas. The markets have really driven it as well,” Brummund said,” adding, “Soybeans are one of the more profitable crops right now so that’s been a driver in people giving it a try.”

She said last year many new soybean growers who put the crop in had average success in a dry year and were encouraged by that.

“Farmers in the south and east in Ward County have been growing soybeans for quite a while so it’s not a new crop for them,” Brummund said. “It used to be unheard of to have soybeans up in the northwest Gooseneck portion and now there’s significant acres of it.”

Traditional crops

“We’re still going to have a lot of wheat acreage in. There’s going to be a lot of flax, a lot of canola – some of those traditional crops.”

She said she hasn’t heard of as many producers putting in sunflowers. “There are some challenges and risks with sunflowers. The birds cause some struggles and it’s a late season – a late harvest – so there’s some people that just don’t want to take on the risks of sunflowers, but they are a crop that will be grown as well.”

Corn acres in the county have decreased, she said. “Corn is a high input crop and the return just isn’t quite as well,” she said.

She said “hardly any” acres of barley were put in last year or this year.

“There’s still a lot of time left where people might change their planting decisions. As we get later into the season they might decide to go with a different crop. It’s still too early to say. We’re just a few days in,” she said during a May 8 interview.

It’s a late planting season for farmers in Ward County and the surrounding area this year.

Brummund said many farmers got into the field around May 5-6. “That’s fairly late for us,” she said.

“We had the fifth coldest April on record so that’s why. We had snow that stuck around well into the middle and end of April. When the frost did go out that moisture disappeared in a hurry but we stayed really cold through April so they’re just starting to get rolling now – the first week of May,” she said.

Soil temperatures

Information about soil temperatures can be found online at NDAWN – the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network – at https://ndawn.ndsu.nodak.edu/.

NDAWN stations are located at Minot and surrounding areas. Brummund said an NDAWN is located about every 60 miles or so.

“We are coming off of a dry year – 2017 – and that pattern seems to be holding for this region so far,” Brummund continued.

“April is the 14th dryest April in history on record so while that’s letting people get going in the field this late spring, we really are going to need some moisture at some point,” Brummund said.

“The snow is nice for a little bit of moisture. This spring the snow melted before the ground was thawed so the majority of that moisture ran off. That was good for filling up our stockponds, replenishing our sloughs and rivers and springs but not a significant amount of it was absorbing the soil because the ground was still frozen when the snow melted. We had more runoff rather than absorption,” she said.

“That’s really part of farming and agriculture is you roll with what Mother Nature gives you,” Brummund said.

Ranchers and pastures

“Obviously, the drought again carries over into this year and what we’ve been noticing because of the cool spring is our grasses are behind as well,” Brummund said. “It’s a little bit too early yet to have cattle out on our summer pastures so hopefully ranchers are keeping them in on their spring pastures, letting that grass get ahead in the growth a little bit before they turn cattle out in there. If they’re able to do that, they’ll have more production (of grass) later into the summer.”

As far as cattle health goes, she said cattle owners had some struggles with the cool April.

“The coldest April on record really gave us some animal health issues,” mainly referring to those who were calving during that time. “The majority of ranchers in the area calve in that March-April timeframe so when it is cool out, we have some struggles then. Snow and cold and wet – it was a challenging calving season this year,” she said.

With the weather hump over, she said “things are looking up.”

“We do hope we can get some rain. The snowmelt did help fill up some of the waterholes for livestock so that was a positive but we’re still behind on moisture,” she said. “I just can’t stress enough if producers can rest pastures that were overgrazed last year and wait well into the end of May or June before turning out. That’s really going to help the grass production,” Brummund said.

Getting the information

To obtain information about current conditions in Ward County, Brummund goes out to scout the pastures and fields and her information also is shared within the Extension Network. Every county has an Extension agent.

“We share that information weekly with each other and with the media to help us get that message out,” Brummund said.

She can obtain the soil temperatures online but said she also networks with other producers and farmers. They call her or she calls them to find out the current conditions at their places.

For example, she said conditions will vary drastically between a farmer in the Douglas area and a farmer in the Kenmare area. “I can call them on the same day and it will be quite different,” she said.

“We are drier in the western portion (of the state). The east isn’t quite as dry,” she said. As of Tuesday, May 8, she said the majority of Ward County was in a D-1 category or moderate drought.

“We’ll see how that progresses as the growing season goes on,” she said.

People can find information about the drought by going to the U.S. Drought Monitor/North Dakota Drought Monitor online at droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx. “Right now we’re looking at the drought continuing into maybe 2018 which is unfortunate and that’s something producers keep in mind as they are managing their fields and trying to retain as much moisture as possible and then also selecting their crops – trying to select varieties that are drought resistant,” Brummund said.