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North Dakota is dramatically behind its own average planting pace. Why?

The latest USDA Crop Progress report indicated North Dakota is the only top corn growing state that has not planted at least 50% of the 2023 crop. Just 32% of the state’s corn was in the ground, well behind the five-year average of 50%, according to the May 22 report. Corn emergence was pegged at 4% on Monday.

Farmers in the state are behind planting other crops, too. Only 20% of this year’s soybean crop is planted. The five-year average for this point in the season is 33%. Just 1% of North Dakota soybeans are out of the ground.

Sunflower planting progress is still in the single digits at 5% compared with the five-year average of 13%.

Oats in North Dakota are 35% planted. The five-year average is 62%. Just 8% of this year’s crop has emerged compared with the five-year average of 25%. However, oats that are out there are in pretty good condition. USDA rated North Dakota oat condition 1% very poor, 2% poor, 23% fair, 73% good, and 1% on Monday.

Spring wheat planting was pegged at 48% complete, well behind progress in other top wheat growing states and the five-year average of 65%. Emergence was reported to be just 13%, less than half the five-year average of 29%.

North Dakota farmers have planted 38% of this year’s barley crop. The five-year average is 64%. Barley emergence is still in the single digits at 8%, significantly behind the 26% five-year average for this time of year.

Carie Marshall Moore and her family farm in northern Towner county. “I will be curious to see how much canola and peas actually get in because it’s so late,” she said earlier this week.

Why is North Dakota planting delayed?

Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota State Climatologist, spoke with Successful Farming to break down recent weather trends and explain this year’s slow crop progress. He says to understand this year’s delays, you need to consider the “extremely harsh” winter the state faced. “It was cold and very snowy. Many locations in North Dakota broke record snowfall amounts,” he says.

The snow surface that blanketed much of the state is actually to blame for the cold temperatures that stuck around longer than normal, the climatologist explains. “It reflected the incoming solar radiation rather than being absorbed by what would have been barren soil,” Akyuz says.

This phenomenon created a “vicious cycle", keeping temperatures unusually low and snowy conditions persisted well into mid-spring.

When warmer temperatures finally arrived in the region, major flooding in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota occurred. “That also exacerbated the conditions unfavorable for spring planting,” Akyuz says.

Snow’s silver lining

Although snow’s extended presence this year may be frustrating to farmers wanting to get their crops planted, the moisture is welcomed.

The state has suffered from “very harsh” drought conditions in recent years, says Akyuz. At the start of 2023, 100% of the state faced moisture stress, and more than 17% of North Dakota was categorized as D2 severe drought. In the fall of 2021, more than 65% of the state was deemed D3 or D4 drought.

Map of 2021 drought conditions in North Dakota
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

In fact, the “thirsty soil underneath” is what kept the floods in eastern North Dakota from becoming even more devastating when the snow finally melted this spring. “If the previous fall were not dry, the conditions would have been much worse,” Akyuz says.

Since the snow melt, rain has continued to fall across the eastern and central parts of the state. He expects these regions to have sufficient moisture for a while.

On Monday, USDA rated topsoil moisture condition 1% very short, 12% short, 69% adequate, and 18% surplus. North Dakota subsoil moisture condition rated 4% very short, 11% short, 73% adequate, and 12% surplus.

“Looking at the seven day forecast, there is still a lot of rainfall potential coming up. Hopefully farmers will be able to find a gap in between the storms to get in and complete fieldwork,” Akyuz says. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

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