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In this April 2016 file photo, standing water was a common sight in much of central and eastern South Dakota during mid to late April. Forum News Service

South Dakota farmers had only 1.6 days fit for field work last week; planting late

PIERRE, S.D. - In the week ended Sunday, April 29, South Dakota’s farmers had 1.6 days “suitable for field work,” the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sioux Falls reported on Monday.

That was after only 0.8 days suitable for such work in the previous week, for a total of 2.4 days over two weeks. That means perhaps a million or more acres.

Last week, farmers put in 6% of the state’s spring wheat crop, after putting in 2% the previous week. The 8% totally by April 29 lags last year’s 11% by the same date and is way behind the five-year average of 60% of the crop planted by now.

With rain over the weekend — 0.71 inch in Pierre Friday-Sunday, according to the National Weather Service — and cool, cloudy weather seen Monday, fields aren’t drying fast.

Late planting can mean a shorter growing season and lower yields for crops. But rushing seed into the ground before conditions are good often doesn’t pay off, either.

Ruth Beck and Dwayne Beck, a Pierre couple who are South Dakota State University extension agronomists, wrote recently for the extension service a review of how this late spring is affecting planting plans.

It likely that more farmers may move from planting small grains such as wheat to perhaps a row crop such as soybeans or sunflowers, which can be planted later and harvested later than spring wheat, according to the Becks.

The positive side is that soil moisture is ample across the state: Topsoil moisture rated surplus over 41% of the state and adequate over 59%. Subsoil moisture rated surplus on 30% of the acres and adequate on 69%, with 1% in short supply.

Precipitation since Jan. 1 in Pierre has totaled 7.05 inches, 3.16 inches above the 30-year norm for the period Jan. 1-April 28.

The winter wheat crop planted last fall is rated in good condition over 55% of the acres and excellent over 2%; fair on 41% and poor on 2%.

Planting was going on in areas south of Pierre and Fort Pierre a week ago, but rains over the weekend slowed the field activity, farmers said.