Williston Research Extension Center has had to abandon its winter wheat trials because of the drought.
“Last summer through now, we had very little snow, and very little rain, so there is just very, very poor germination,” cropping specialist Dr. Clair Keene told the Willliston Herald. “Our research specialist Cameron Walstrom said he walked the plots with the Montana State winter wheat breeder a couple of weeks ago, and they made the decision to abandon the trial based on the stand being so poor and uneven. The likelihood of getting good data from it is not good, so they didn’t see a point in continuing the effort of managing the trial.”
Abandoning a trial is not something that happens often, Keene added.
“I asked Kyle (Dragseth) how many times he’s had to abandon winter wheat here before, and he said zero,” Keene said. “Since he’s been around 25 years, that says something. We are definitely in an extreme drought.”
Dragseth manages the North Dakota Foundation Seedstock program at WREC and is WREC’s farm manager. He, too, is considering abandoning winter wheat he planted for seed increase, due to the same issues.
“In terms of other trials, we are continuing to plant things as normal,” Keene said. “Audrey Kalil has been planting her pathology trials, so a lot of pea and lentil over the past week or even two weeks. And then Cameron and Christy on the dryland crews are planting.”
There is concern about whether these crops will germinate, of course. In the 126 years of NDSU records, this is the driest October through March precipitation for Williams and McKenzie counties.
“In terms of Williston in particular, it’s the second driest since 1893,” Keene said.
One strategy dryland growers can try is delayed planting — but that only goes so far. For one, the later a planting is delayed, the more yield may be sacrificed. But, as well, crop insurance comes with deadlines for planting each crop. That locks producers in to planting by certain dates, particularly since drought does not generally qualify for prevented planting insurance.
Price trends, meanwhile, have encouraged growers to buy seed for crops that particularly dislike drought, such as canola and soybean.
“Canola does not do well in drought conditions. It needs water to get started and to establish,” Keene said. “So that’s one where someone might wait a little bit to put it in the ground, until there’s a chance for rain in the forecast. But at the same time, you know it’s quite expensive seed, and so not planting it is probably not going to be a viable option for most farmers.”
Growers should consider splitting fertilizer applications right now to save on input costs, Keene said.
“We need water to have that payback (from fertilizers), put it that way,” Keene said. “If we start getting rain and things start looking good, go ahead and put it out there, you know top dress. But I would not at this point advise putting it all out there now.”
Statewide, North Dakota has planted 42 percent of its spring wheat crop and 22 percent of its durum, while Montana has planted 33 percent of its spring wheat and 16 percent of its durum. Nationwide, about half the spring wheat crop is in the ground, up 28 percent from last week, and just behind the five-year 32 percent average.
Emergence for these crops has begun for some that were planted earlier, but it is spotty due to lack of moisture.
Winter wheat, meanwhile, is rated 58 percent poor or very poor in North Dakota and 22 percent poor or very poor in Montana, where extreme drought is so far only claiming a thin strip on the eastern edge of the state.
The forecast is calling for some rain in the region this weekend just behind a cold front arriving late Friday night. But there is uncertainty as to just where that stalled frontal boundary is going to sit over the weekend. That will be the point where the most rain hits, but, as of now, the forecast is predicting from one-tenth to one-quarter of an inch for most locations, with areas near the front getting up to three-quarters of an inch of rain.
Here’s a look at how other crops are faring in the MonDak:
Barley in Montana is 38 percent planted and in North Dakota 39 percent. All that is in line with five-year averages. Emergence is 5 to 6 percent.
Canola is 18 percent planted in Montana and 8 percent in North Dakota. That’s 1 percentage point ahead of five-year averages in North Dakota, but is behind the five-year 23 percent average in Montana.
Corn is 10 percent planted in Montana and 14 percent planted in North Dakota. That’s a few percentage points ahead of the five-year 8 percent average inn North Dakota but it’s behind the five-year 16 percent average in Montana.
Dry edible beans is 15 percent in the ground for Montana, but it’s only 2 percent planted in North Dakota. Both figures are very close to five-year averages.
Dry edible peas in Montana are 38 percent planted and in North Dakota they are 23 percent. The latter is ahead of the five-year 18 percent average, but Montana’s is behind its 45 percent average.
Flaxseed is 20 percent planted in Montana and 7 percent planted in North Dakota. Both figures are near five-year averages.
Lentils are 30 percent planted in Montana, which is close to five-year averages, and mustard seed is 20 percent planted, ahead of the five-year 14 percent average.
Oats are 15 percent planted in Montana and 20 percent planted in North Dakota. That’s behind the five-year 24 percent average for Montana, but near the five-year 19 percent average in North Dakota.
Safflower is 6 percent in the ground in Montana, close to the five-year average.
Montana sugar beets are 26 percent planted, well behind the five-year 42 percent average, but they are 66 percent planted in North Dakota, which is well ahead of the 37 percent average.