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2019 Harvest Difficult for Farmers Due to Excess Precipitation

Ruth Wiechmann
for Tri-State Livestock News

It’s not often that farmers or ranchers complain about too much moisture, but the 2019 growing and harvest season pushed many past their limit. Harvest was significantly hampered by wet weather and early snowfalls in much of the upper Midwest, and eastern North Dakota has borne the brunt of the situation.

A mid-October snow storm dropped a record setting thirty inches of snow at Harvey, North Dakota, with lesser but still heavy amounts in the eastern part of the state.

Patrick Erickson, who works at the Harvey Farmers Elevator, said that in spite of the huge amount of snow, the weather was mostly cooperative after the blast and farmers were able to harvest most of the crops within a thirty mile radius of Harvey.

“After the storm we got exactly what we needed,” he said. “It warmed up enough that the snow all melted, and then it got cold enough to where folks didn’t make bad tracks and ruts in the fields.”

Soybeans in the area survived the snowstorm better than expected and even though harvesting them took longer than usual, most were able to be harvested.


Erickson said that wheat that was still standing in the fields when the storm hit was mostly shot.

“I’m not sure how farmers are going to be able to reconcile this with their insurance,” he said.

Corn varied. Erickson said that Harvey lay on a ‘fault line’ of sorts, with dryer conditions to the northwest and wetter conditions to the southeast.

“To the northwest of us the corn is mostly done,” he said. “Folks had some travel issues on days that it thawed, but the corn crop was of reasonable quality and a good yield. To the southeast, it’s a different story. Not as much is harvested and the quality is questionable.”

NDSU Extension Agent Alicia Harstad, Jamestown, said that in Stuttsman County where she works the soybean harvest was definitely delayed by the weather but is pretty much done now.

“The snow in October didn’t help,” she said. “Even the wheat harvest was late. It didn’t really start until early to mid September.”

Harstad said there is still quite a bit of corn standing in the fields.

“With all the difficult weather the corn is still wet, and it’s light test weight,” she said. “A lot of farmers are choosing to wait until spring to try to harvest it and let it dry naturally, because they don’t want to incur additional costs of drying it when the quality isn’t there.

“It has just been so wet, and there have been a lot of compounding factors. We had a late, wet spring, and we had rain on rain on rain all summer so the ground was saturated going into fall. It has really worn down the farmers.”

Harstad said that feed supplies are short in spite of bumper crops of hay, again, due to excess moisture.

“People are questioning the quality of their hay because it got so much rain on it and was not always baled at the ideal moisture level,” she said, “So that is also discouraging. They had to make the call to bale it on the wet side to get it rolled up before it got rained on again. On the other hand, if they chose to wait to bale it until it was completely dry it was liable to just get rained on in the windrow and they lost quality that way.”

Not only was 2019 wetter than average, moisture came at unusual times which added to farmers’ difficulty with harvesting crops.

Alex Edwards of the National Weather Service at Bismarck said that 2019 definitely set records and the numbers showed more moisture than usual.

Jamestown State Hospital is one of the longest-standing weather recording sites in North Dakota, he said. “We have records going back to the late 1800’s. Jamestown’s average snowfall between October first and January seventh is sixteen inches; the snowfall accumulation between October 1, 2019 and January 7, 2020 was a record breaking fifty-six inches. This was four and a half inches more than the previous record set in 1993-94. Jamestown also had the most rain on record during the month of September, with five and a half inches recorded, topping the previous record of 5.2 inches set in 1973. For snow in the month of October, Jamestown broke another record with seventeen inches of snow. The previous record of ten and a half inches had remained unbroken since 1896!”

The numbers show that farmers have legitimate reason to complain of too much moisture. It really isn’t just their imagination, it has been a really tough year in the field, with wet, cool seasons and record breaking rainfall and snow storms. With several months yet to accumulate snow before spring comes, there is uncertainty about how much more moisture the ground can handle.

“It’s definitely been an unusual year,” Harstad said. “Even the older farmers say they have never seen it this wet. They have never seen water levels where they were this spring, and we’ve had so much moisture since then that we don’t know what next spring holds.”




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