GRAND FORKS - John Bollingberg remembers a few other years when the area's wheat crop was harvested this early. But there's an important difference with this early harvest.
"Those other years, we didn't have crops of any quality," says Bollingberg, a retired 78-year-old Bremen farmer. "But this year, we got the wheat in early and it turned out to be a crop we were happy with."
The Upper Midwest's small-grains harvest is virtually wrapped up, and yields and quality generally were good. Small grains were planted early, allowing them to mature soon enough to beat the worst of July's hot, dry weather.
Attention now shifts to other crops, particularly corn and soybeans. Conditions vary widely, with some producers in the Upper Midwest reporting good to average crops and others saying they've been hurt by drought.
"There's the good, the bad and the ugly," says Brian Eggebrecht, a Malta, Mont., farmer and president of his state's Grain Growers Association, of Montana crop conditions. And that applies to the entire Upper Midwest, as well.
Big differences also will come into play when remaining crops are harvested. Some were planted early and could be harvested two weeks sooner than what U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics say is normal, according to farmers, extension services and commodity group officials.
Many of the remaining crops were planted at their customary time and will be harvested on the normal schedule, officials say.
The region's soybean harvest typically swings into its most active phase in late September, with corn harvest normally full bore in early October, according to USDA.
But regardless of when fields are harvested, most everyone agrees on one thing: While there's no hope for a regionwide bumper crop, rain would do wonders, especially if it comes by mid-August.
"We could really use 2 inches of widespread rain," says Chuck Gunnerson, president of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in East Grand Forks, Minn.
The Red River Valley of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota is the nation's leading producer of red potatoes and the only region that produces in volume for the chip, fresh, seed and process markets.
If 10 area farmers were asked how their crops look, they'd probably give 10 different answers. Some producers went into the growing season with relatively good subsoil moisture; others didn't. Some farmers have received timely rains this summer; others haven't.
Farmers in southern Minnesota have been helped by recent rains, but any chance of a big row-crop harvest this fall is gone, says Bradley Carlson, University of Minnesota Extension Service crops educator in Mankato.
Fifteen percent of Minnesota corn and 12 percent of Minnesota soybeans rated poor or very poor.
Don Streifel, who farms near Washburn, N.D., in the west-central part of the state, says crops in his area look better than might be expected.
Bart Schott, whose family farms near Kulm, N.D., in the south-central part of the state, speaks for many farmers in the region when he says, "We were doing OK. But we missed a (needed) rain. So we're losing some ground."
On the plus side, the Schotts this spring planted some low-lying fields that in the past few years were too wet to plant, he says.
"Those fields usually are the ones we get our best crop on," he says. "I think we'll have a decent crop, but not what we would have had if we'd had a rain (in early August)," Schott says.
Thirteen percent of North Dakota's soybean crop and 14 percent of the state's corn rated poor or very poor.
Jonathan Knutson writes for Agwekk