Forum editorial: Nervous time on the farm
Last year's wet, cold fall prevented farmers from harvesting a significant portion of the region's crops, especially corn. Indeed, some of last year's corn is still standing in muddy fields in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.
If last year's harvest headaches weren't enough, the 2009 crop season started out with record flooding and one of the latest springs ever. The result was late planting of nearly all major crops and changes in planting plans because of the late season.
Could it get worse? The answer for many farmers was yes. The late spring was followed by a cool early summer. In some places (Richland County, N.D., is one example), fields that would be green with maturing corn at this time of year never saw a seeder because of early summer deluges that prevented equipment from moving.
But there is more. The cool summer compounded spring planting delays so that crop progress has been abnormally slow. Hard red spring wheat and durum, for example, should be as much as 20 percent in the bin at this time of year. In most of the northern wheat belt only 5 percent or less has been combined. Corn? It's late. Soybeans? Late. The longer it takes for those crops to mature, the closer looms the danger of frost. An early frost can reduce yields. The average date of the first frost in the Fargo-Moorhead area is Sept. 20. That's less than a month from now. But of course, "average" means the first frost date could be much later in the fall. A long, frost-free fall would be ideal.
What makes the spring and summer weather situation so troubling is that in general, crops look very good. Yield potential for most major crops could be in record-breaking territory. If the rest of summer is hot with normal rainfall, and good weather extends into fall, many of the region's farmers could be bringing in a bin-buster.
Lots of ifs out there. But that is the nature of production agriculture. Even with farm program safety nets, crop insurance and disaster aid, it's a crap shoot. Mother Nature's variables are maddeningly complex. Here's hoping she's kinder this fall than she's been in spring and summer. After all, agriculture remains a regional economic mainstay. When the farm economy does well, it's good news for all of us.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.