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Water, Corn, and Specialty Crops Thrive in Southeastern North Dakota
The first event I ever covered as an agricultural journalist was a field day at the Oakes Irrigation Research Site near Oakes, North Dakota, in July 1983. I still remember that day’s irony: pounding rain herded attendees into a shed to listen to experts tell how to irrigate thirsty crops.
It took me 29 years to once again attend the site’s field day in this southeastern North Dakota research site. Walt Albus, the site’s research agronomist who recently retired, sure has a good memory, because he actually remembered me attending my first one in 1983.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Maybe that’s because that July 1983 rain was a regional rarity. Drought interspersed by occasional rainfall was then the norm. No more. Flooding, overflowing sloughs, and soaked cropland are the new normal, with an occasional drought like 2012 tossed in. After last week, the region in the soup again. Rainfall tallying 5 inches or more pounded the region on June 20.
Onions Can Be Profitable
The area has some neat attributes, though, such as its vegetable crops. Harlene Hatterman-Valenti, a North Dakota State University (NDSU) crop scientist who specializes in high-value crop production, discussed onion production. “Onions can be a profitable crop if you control the weeds,” she says.
Little Competition Early On
That’s a big if, though. Onions are notoriously for non-competitive with weeds early on. That’s compounded by most preemergence herbicide options being ineffective and no postemergence herbicides being able to be applied past the 2-leaf stage.
Early Does It
To find ways to nix weeds early, NDSU researchers tested early-applied microrates of bromoxynil (Buctril) and oxyfluorfen (GoalTender) early on vs. standard preemergence treatments of DCPA (Dacthal) or ethofumesate (Nortron) in onions. At year’s end, the best results occurred when a higher rate of bromoxynil was followed by a tank mix of bromoxynil and oxyfluorfen.
Irrigated potatoes are another area specialty crop. They’re a highly profitable crop when things go right, but there’s a lot that can go wrong, says Asunta (Susie) Thompson, an NDSU potato breeder. Dry soils keyed by delayed irrigation leads to misshapen tubers rejected by potato processors. Stressful weather can create dumb-bell shaped potatoes, which consumers spurn.
One way to improve a potato’s reaction to stress is by improved breeding. That’s where NDSU comes into play. It has just one of 13 potato breeding programs in the United States.
Upcoming Critical Time
Rampant rainfall has stressed lots of corn so far 2013. The most critical time is coming up, though. “Pollination to early kernel formation is when corn is most prone to stress,” says Joel Ransom, NDSU Extension agronomist. Stress-free conditions help ensure synchronized pollen shed and silking.
NDSU agronomists have also studied yield differences between 15-inch and 30-inch rows, notes Ransom. In 2012 at Oakes, 15-inch rows showed a slight edge compared to 30-inch rows. However, it wasn’t statistically significant. Fifteen-inch rows showed a statistically significant yield response in just one out of the study’s seven years.
Sugarbeets for Energy
Sugarbeets aren’t just for sugar anymore. They have energy-producing potential for ethanol production. That’s the impetus behind a West Fargo, North Dakota company aiming to do this, BeetsAll Biofuel.
Agronomic Benefits for Sugarbeets
Maynard Helgaas, who heads the Green Vision Group that’s been studying sugar-based fuel production, notes energy sugarbeets have agronomic benefits, too. “They have a deep taproot that that removes excess moisture and takes up salts,” he says. That’s a plus in a wet area like southeastern North Dakota, where excess moisture can cause yield-robbing saline seeps in soils.
water, potatoes, sugarbeets, onions, corn