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Many acres still left unharvested

By Staff | Dec 26, 2008

The blame for many acres of corn and sunflowers still standing in fields in the Rugby area doesn’t rest entirely on the early November snowstorm which abruptly halted harvest for many farmers, says Carter Medalen, Rugby Farmers Union Oil Co. agronomist.

No, it goes back further than that.

Late planting caused by cool weather made the growing season drag out, putting late season crops at odds with adverse weather.

“They just didn’t mature and dry down adequately (before the weather turned),” Medalen said.

As a result, many acres of corn and sunflowers remain unharvested, including some belonging to Pierce County farmer Mark Koenig, who has about 300 acres of corn and 160 acres of sunflowers in the field.

I can wait and hope for a January thaw to get out there,” he said. “However, if we get more snow, that will lessen the chances of getting to those crops.”

And harvesting in the middle of winter is hard on man and machine, said Koenig, who already has had to contend with machine troubles during harvesting in poor weather. Prior to the early snow storm in November, Koenig did manage to combine some corn in October, but the moisture content was high and it took many days before the crop dried down.

Fellow farmer Nicholas Schmaltz has about 600 acres in the field, and like Koenig, hopes to get to it once conditions improve and the snow melts off the sunflower heads.

“That (snow) in November really put the kibosh on things,” Schmaltz said. “If we had received six or eight inches, it wouldn’t have been a big thing, but when you get 19 to 20 inches, that changes things.

Schmaltz was able to get to the crop a little bit in late November and early December, but the cold weather suspended harvesting.

Medalen said some farmers were able get much of the crop off the fields in between the snow storm in early November and the one in mid-December. Others weren’t so fortunate.

Ten percent of corn remains in the field

According to the N.D. Corn Growers Association, as of last week about 10 percent of the state’s 2.25 million acres of corn remained unharvested, much of it in the northern regions, which received heavier snow accumulations.

Snow drifts in the fields make it difficult to run combines, because in addition to gathering the ears, combines also scoop snow, and that can cause the sieves to freeze up, resulting in breakdowns.

Adding to the worry is that wildlife could get to some of the unharvested corn. However, if there is heavy snow in fields, it will create a bit of a deterrent, as deer and others won’t want to waste the energy digging through snow and forage.

Sunflower acres stand a better chance of being combined since the heads are higher up on the stalks, out of the snow. However, if the region receives more snowfall, it will only make field conditions worse and may mean those crops will sit there until spring.

And what’s frustrating is the bills keep coming in, even though the crops are not off the fields,” Koenig said.

Koenig said sunflowers have been his bread and butter for so many years, but unfortunately, a crop that has to stay in the field longer runs the risk of getting caught in bad weather, which is what happened this year.

Schmaltz agrees the risk of planting late season crops is that occasionally producers run into tough harvest conditions.

And that reality will cause farmers to think twice about just how many acres of corn and sunflowers they’ll plant next year.

Many farmers have shifted their focus to next year’s growing season, and there is a bit of good news. Fuel and fertilizer prices have come down, and soil moisture levels should be good, given all the rain in October and wet snow in early November.

“Even though I have crops in the field, it’s nice to know we have good soil moisture (for next year),” Schmaltz said. “And we no-till (so we should not be behind in getting crops in).”

And as farmers know, you have to take the bad with the good.

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