KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. — “Perpetual, ill-timed rains” are behind the notable lag in spring wheat plantings in top-producing North Dakota, Jim Peterson, marketing director at the North Dakota Wheat Commission, told Milling & Baking News. The outlook for planting the remaining 23% of the crop before the prevent plant date in late June is fairly bleak, he said, because wet, cool weather is expected to continue. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) most recent Crop Progress Report pegged spring wheat plantings in North Dakota at 77% complete, well behind the other five major spring wheat states, all of which were between 94% and 100% planted and in keeping with the five-year average of 96% planted as of June 9. 

More rain is in the forecast, Peterson said, making it unlikely that much of the remaining 1.5 million unplanted acres (compared to 6.5 million acres already planted) will be planted to spring wheat in time. June 15 is quickly approaching, after which producers will become hesitant to plant spring wheat, he said. 

“Yield drops fairly dramatically after June 15,” he said. 

Farmers have until June 25 to plant and still receive some insurance coverage but it will be minimal at that time, so many are now deciding whether to take “prevent-plant” coverage or switch crops. With “prevent-plant” they just need to show their insurance provider, underwritten by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, that they have made a good-faith effort to plant this spring but they were not able to do so because of weather. Then, they may get a portion of their crop insurance, which reimburses at about 40% to 50% of the estimated value of a planted crop. 

The next step would be to perhaps plant something different that might thrive in the expected warm, dry conditions of later summer. Peterson suggested that sunflowers made the most sense as a substitute crop, since soybeans don‘t do as well in the state’s west and northern regions. Late-planted soybeans run the risk of being damaged close to harvest by frost, which can come to those areas of North Dakota in early September, he said. 

Peterson suggested that 20-20 hindsight this year would have said the best time to try to start planting may have been in early May when many fields in the north were still covered in part by snow. Looking back, that period proved to be drier compared to mid-May forward, he said. Many producers were still expecting the drought of 2012 to extend its reach well into 2013. Instead, they got three weeks of relentless rain and very few days where fieldwork was possible. 

Some kept expecting the precipitation to let up, telling themselves ‘It can’t rain that much’ after last year’s drought, he said. But fields have remained saturated and some low areas have pond-like standing water. 

“One farmer said he had 13 inches of rain as of early June and the average rainfall for an entire year for parts of the state is 16 inches,” he said. 

Other crops in addition to spring wheat are behind in their pace of planting, such as durum, which was 78% planted as of June 9, down from an 85% five-year average. Oats, canola, flaxseed, corn and soybeans were all well behind the five-year averages, the state’s USDA field office said.