(Resource News International) — Flooding in the Red River Valley this spring could cause at least one million acres of North Dakota farm land to go unplanted, according to a U.S. Farm Service Agency official.
“I have to believe that the way we were set up last fall with all of the wet acres and with what we’re looking at right now, we’re certainly going to have over one million acres go unplanted, if not well over that,” said Dale Ihry, a Fargo-based program specialist with the North Dakota branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FSA.
A more definite number is difficult to provide at this point in time, Ihry said. There is still a lot of snow left on the ground and four weeks left until early planting typically begins in North Dakota.
The threat of significant flooding in the Red River Valley was raised on March 10, when a storm in North Dakota dumped 10 inches of snow onto land that had already been saturated in the fall due to significant rain.
The U.S. National Weather Service is now projecting major flooding for most of the Red River basin, including the cities of Fargo and Grand Forks.
“The magnitude of the expected flooding has not been seen in several years,” the weather service said in a statement.
In Grand Forks, the weather service is reportedly projecting that the Red River, which flows north into Manitoba before emptying into Lake Winnipeg, could crest at around 50 feet, four feet below the crest level in 1997. Flood stage in Grand Forks is 28 feet.
In Fargo, about 125 kilometres south of Grand Forks, forecasters predict the river will crest at more than 35 feet, well above the 18 foot flood stage.
Of the roughly 20 million acres of farmland planted annually between mid-April and mid-June in North Dakota, 5.5 million acres are located in the Red River Valley and could be underwater this spring.
Ihry said unplanted acres in North Dakota reached a high of 3.9 million acres in 1999 due to excessively wet spring weather in the northern-tier counties. In 2001, unplanted acres totalled 2.1 million, again due to wet conditions. In 1997, the year of the devastating Red River flooding, unplanted acres reached 1.1 million acres.
This year, North Dakota farmers whose planting season is delayed rather than ended by flooding will be forced to seed short-season crops, with a move from corn to soybeans the most likely switch, Ihry said.