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American Crystal to announce decision on Roundup Ready beets today

It looks like a late spring for farmers this year, and that's not all bad. For one thing, it gave American Crystal Sugar added time to decide if it dares allow the co-op's member growers to plant "Roundup Ready" beets this year amid a protracted ...

It looks like a late spring for farmers this year, and that's not all bad.

For one thing, it gave American Crystal Sugar added time to decide if it dares allow the co-op's member growers to plant "Roundup Ready" beets this year amid a protracted federal court fight with environmentalists over the product.

For the past three years, American Crystal has used beet seed genetically enhanced to be immune to the common weed killer Roundup, which has made growing the beets easier. But with a possible court injunction around one of many corners coming up, it might be easier to just go back to planting "conventional" beet seed, which requires more intense and precise spraying of herbicides. It's not that big a deal, many growers say, and better than worrying about litigious environmentalists bent on banning GMO seed.

American Crystal's president, David Berg, and other leaders, visited the Herald on Tuesday and said they would tell growers during meetings today which way they are going to go.

The company has plenty of supplies of both kinds of seed, and agricultural companies have lined up the needed herbicides either way, growers say.

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Whatever decision is made, nobody is going to be out seeding anything until mid-April at least, and probably later, several farmers have said recently.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's statistics office in Fargo put out its first crop progress report of the season Tuesday, pegging the average start for fieldwork across North Dakota at April 26.

That's eight days later than last year and five days behind the five-year average.

The estimated average starting date for field work ranges from April 17 in the central part of the state to May 3 in the southeast corner, where the most snow has fallen.

From 2006 to 2010, the average starting date for field work was April 21.

Minnesota's USDA stats office won't put out its first crop progress report until Monday, but it looks to be late there, too.

Snow depth across North Dakota averaged 12.2 inches Sunday, compared with 0.6 inch a year ago and 15.6 inches on Feb. 28. The snow depth at Grand Forks has been a trace for two weeks, but has been 7 inches in the Fargo area and is still up to 16 inches in east-central North Dakota.

Brian O'Toole, a Pembina County wheat farmer, member of the North Dakota Wheat Commission's board of directors, and owner of a seed company, was busy taking in customers cleaning their wheat seed Tuesday. He said the USDA's predictions sound about right. It's giving farmers time to get ready.

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"There are two seasons in the seed business," O'Toole said. "The first is 'the truck won't start' and the second is "the yard is too soft,' and we are right in between."

There isn't that much snow around his farm, compared with the southern Red River Valley that got twice as much or more snow this past winter, O'Toole said.

"We are looking at snow in the shelterbelts and a considerable amount of water in the field that froze up wet (last fall)," he said. "But I don't see us being out in the field before the middle of the month."

A week to 10 days or more later than last year, he said. "Last year, I believe we were out in the field on the eighth of April. I think we got a quarter (section or 160 acres) planted and then sat for two weeks after that."

It's easy to take less than perfect weather conditions when other parts of the farming puzzle look so good, O'Toole said.

Prices for every crop are at or near historic highs, with wheat, corn, soybeans, sunflowers and edible beans all priced at about twice usual levels.

"There are some good opportunities out there," he said. "I'm looking forward to a lot less stressful year."

It's been a four-year stretch or so of very good farming, from both production and price perspectives, across the Northern Plains.

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Which has drawn two sons and a son-in-law to come home to farm, pleasing him to no end, O'Toole said.

At the same time, the cost of land, fertilizer and fuel has about kept pace, he said.

"We almost need $7 (per bushel) wheat now," he said, a good 75 percent higher than long-term averages, because of the increased production costs.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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