ND flood effects on ag unclear
CASSELTON, ND (DTN) – The snow falling around Fargo, ND, is something of a mixed blessing. The cold temperatures are helping slow the snowmelt feeding the river, but the snow contains additional moisture – the last thing the Red River Valley needs at this point.
Fifty miles south near Wahpeton, ND, farmer Chris Johnson is keeping an eye on the water that’s within 30 feet of his house. It came up a foot overnight – two more and it’s in the house, he said; one more and it’s under the aeration floors of his grain bins, despite the sandbags.
The Red dropped from its crest of 17.5 feet in Wahpeton Tuesday to 17 feet Wednesday morning, but Johnson said the water troubling him is flowing into the Valley 30 miles west. The river is expected to crest in Fargo between 39 feet and a record 41 feet by Sunday.
For Johnson and other farmers in the Valley, the flood comes after a wet fall that saturated soils and a late harvest that kept fall tillage to a minimum. So even after the waters recede, it will take some time to assess the flood’s effect on agriculture and the 2009 growing season.
“We have a couple of strikes against us already in eastern North Dakota,” said Joel Ransom, North Dakota State University extension agronomist. “We had excess moisture this fall and a late harvest; there’s a lot of fall tillage that didn’t take place.”
About 10 percent of the corn crop, or about 250,000 acres, was left in the field last fall, he said. A lot of that got taken out over the winter and even last week, so that number’s more like five percent or less.
The main concern at this point is planting, he said. “We’re probably two to three weeks behind (into the first part of May) at this point. Good weather from here on out could help us catch up, but poor weather could push us further behind.”
“We continue to see a very difficult spring season in the Red River Valley, with below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation,” said DTN Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. “The entire basin will keep feeling the impact of a combination of snowmelt and potentially heavy rain. Unfortunately for producers in the area, flooding and delays in field work and planting will quite likely be most extensive in the entire Corn Belt.”
The setback with fall tillage means growers will have to do some prep work before they can even think about planting.
Johnson left 40 percent of his sugar beet crop in the ground last fall because the ground profile was too full and heavy to lift the beets. But that concerns him less than the cornstalks.
He shredded the tops off the sugar beet ground in the fall and those fields will be black and attract sunlight. But cornstalks won’t heat or dry out as fast.
“We’re a minimum of a month behind,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at the last week of April or the first week of May – a week to 10 days behind normal for corn.”
Larry Hoffman, who farms about 10 miles west of Casselton, said, if nothing else, this spring will be interesting. “I’ve never seen it like this before, and I’m 65 … the water’s gone over roads I’ve never seen it go over before.”
Road repairs are likely to be the first order of business for many growers.
Portions of Interstates 29 and 94 are closed along with numerous county and secondary roads. For now, it’s difficult to say how much damage rural roads have sustained. In Richland County, where Wahpeton is located, 25 percent of the county and secondary roads are closed due to flooding, a local news source reported. Those numbers couldn’t be independently verified, but a list of road closures is available at http://www.dot.nd.gov/travel/travel.htm
When the water goes down, they’ll assess the damage, Johnson said. “I’ve seen a lot of township road culverts washed out – those are the easiest and least expensive thing to replace; bridges are a little trickier.” With a culvert, you can see there’s a problem, but with a bridge, you can’t always see if a repair is needed.
Road damage could affect grain transportation somewhat, depending on how much money townships have to repair the roads, Hoffman said. “I know there are a couple of township bridges they’re watching right now because of ice jams,” he added.
Sid Mauch, general manager at Maple River Grain and Agronomy in Casselton, said the water didn’t affect grain flow to the elevator until the first part of the week, and he’s expecting it to resume at the same pace as early as next week, much like it did after the flood of 1997.
Most growers don’t use secondary roads with loaded trucks, he said. They’re mainly for farm-to-field traffic.
Rail traffic has also been affected for now, due to water over the tracks. A shuttle train is due Friday, Mauch said, but it’s hard to say if that will stay on schedule.
Based on the amount of water and the spring forecast, Hoffman expects to see some prevented planting, but he’s already considering his options, including millet, which is generally planted in June. “Every year presents a problem,” he said.
“For us to change (our cropping plan) is no problem;” we don’t have fertilizer down or a lot of seed locked in. “You have to roll with the punches,” he said. “It isn’t fun, but that’s how it is.”
Counties along the Red produced more than 40 percent of the North Dakota corn crop in 2008, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Grand Forks, Pembina, Walsh, Cass, Traill and Richland counties combined produced 115.69 million bushels out of total production for the state of 285.2 million bushels. Richland County was the top single county producer at 39.66 million bushels, followed by Cass County at 38.94 million bushels.
susanne stahl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org