McMillan: Northern Plains planting grinds to a halt

Planting problems resume for northern U.S. farmers. In what was already a very slow start to seeding, farmers were stopped by rains so heavy that flash flood warnings were issued for southeastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.

The slow-moving weather system brought heavy rains to already-saturated ground. Over the past three days these areas received 50 to 75 mm and are forecast to receive that much again over the next several days.

During the first two weeks of May the outlook had improved somewhat, with planting of all crops beginning across the north. Seeding progress last week was substantial for all of the Northern Plains. With the recent rain, planting will be stopped until drier, warmer weather returns.

The forecast is for wet weather to continue over most of the northern Plains for the next seven days, with only occasional breaks.

The rains aren’t all bad news. A significant portion of the northern Plains only received 25 to 50 per cent of normal precipitation over the previous month. For producers who succeeded in planting, the rains will recharge dwindling soil moisture levels.

Over the week, North Dakota’s planted acres surged ahead. For corn, 61 per cent is now sown compared to 18 per cent the week earlier. Corn planting is now caught up to normal for this time of year. Spring wheat is now 50 per cent sown, up 24 points from the previous week, but 17 points behind normal. The situation is similar for other crops in North Dakota. Massive seeding progress over the week, but still slower than normal. Seeding delays in North Dakota range from 15 to 30 percentage points depending on the crop.

The likelihood of elevated prevented-planting insurance claims is rising. Depending on the portion of North Dakota, May 25 or May 31 is the last date for insured planting of corn. Small grains such as barley, oats and spring wheat are only a few days later, on either May 31 or June 5.

Earlier forecasts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture had anticipated North Dakotans increasing their corn acreage from 3.6 million acres to 4.1, an increase of 114 percentage points from the previous year. Using those acreage assumptions and planting progress as of May 19 it would mean that North Dakotan farmers still had 1.7 million acres of corn to be planted. Acres may no longer be sown to corn in many areas even though it was pencilling out to be the most profitable crop. Farmers could still sow corn, but later seeding increases the risk of summer heat impacting pollination or possible risk from autumn frosts.

Soybeans, sunflowers and a few other crops can still be sown until the middle of June and may claim some of the land initially planned for corn.

— Stuart McMillan writes from Winnipeg on weather and agronomic issues affecting Prairie farmers.

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