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Late start, cool temps, but still ‘there’s a little hope’: Central North Dakota crops at least 2 weeks behind

DAWSON, N.D. — A wet spring followed by a cool early summer means crops in the central part of North Dakota are between two or three weeks behind schedule and not yet catching up.

“We’ve got some stuff that the stand wasn’t great on and did a little replanting due to the moisture,” said farmer Neil Fanta, of Dawson, about 50 miles east of Bismarck. “Did a little replanting due to the moisture. Now we’ve got everything planted and doing some spraying and doing some top-dressing.”

Fanta and his wife, Becky, are grain farmers and also run Elite Ag Solutions, a business he started 22 years ago, just out of high school. The Fantas sell Pioneer seed, with some chemical retail locations.

Fanta, 42, and his family plant more than 8,000 acres. They grow corn, soybeans, wheat and canola. His father, Donald, 71, farms with him, as well as a son, Clayton, 20, who just finished an agricultural course at Bismarck State College.

The Fantas sell some other crops, including alfalfa, sorghum and sudangrass. They got out of the livestock business about 15 years ago.

Despite the rains, the Fantas got almost all of their land planted. Part of the urgency was to stay eligible for Market Facilitation Program payments, the U.S. counter-move to Chinese tariff war retaliation.

Support for Trump administration policy changes seem to remain strong, even though market impacts have hurt farmers, he said.

Farmers have recently been cheered by run-ups in the markets as traders respond to the reality of large numbers of unplanted U.S. acres.

“I know there are some places that have had a real tough time getting their crop in, and haven’t, but it makes for the markets to rise a little bit,” he said.

End of the year

Crops are about two to three weeks behind. Some of the corn is a few inches tall and other corn is just coming out of the ground. Ditto for the soybeans.

“It’s going to be interesting at the end of the year,” Fanta said, noting that with temperature highs in the mid-50s in late June there isn’t a great accumulation of “growing degree days,” an agronomic measure for crop development. With corn, for example, significant crop growth occurs largely between 50 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

In Fanta’s corner of the world, moods have improved significantly. “When the spring started, a lot of my customers were pretty down-and-out, the prices were really bugging them,” he said. “Now that the market has moved and there’s a little hope, guys are in a lot better mood.”

Despite the uptick in grain prices, Fanta hasn’t done much marketing of the 2019 crop. “The market is still moving a little bit,” he said. “We’ve done a little just to protect ourselves.”

Not all of Fanta’s fieldwork involves commodities. On June 18, he was breaking up a 30-acre piece of land to plant some “real late corn just for a food plot for deer and pheasants.”

As a side enterprise, he is working to develop some recreational cabins along Crystal Springs, thinking the lake might be attractive to Bismarck or Jamestown residents who want a getaway without much gravel road travel.

His sons all hunt and he operates a hunting lodge on the side.

“This is new land, we just purchased it and we were out here spraying, and it’s always been a kind of a weed mess,” Fanta said. “We want to clean it up, get some nice habitat going for the deer.”

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