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WDAY: The News Leader

Published June 30, 2009, 10:50 AM

North Dakota planted acres fall

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Planted acres of principal crops in North Dakota — a state that leads the nation in the production of a dozen commodities — have plummeted by nearly one-tenth from a year ago, with much of the drop likely due to record spring flooding.

By: BLAKE NICHOLSON, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Planted acres of principal crops in North Dakota — a state that leads the nation in the production of a dozen commodities — have plummeted by nearly one-tenth from a year ago, with much of the drop likely due to record spring flooding.

Corn took an especially hard hit, with this year's crop down 25 percent from last year. Other crops, including barley, oats, canola and sunflowers, were down at least 10 percent.

An agriculture economist at North Dakota State University said Tuesday that he does not expect the state's economy to take a huge hit, however.

"Producers do have crop insurance, and there's 'prevented planting' crop insurance," Andy Swenson said, referring to a federal program that compensates farmers if they can't plant a crop because the fields are too wet or too dry.

"It's not like farmers are going to get no income on that land," he said.

Swenson said the acreage drop also is unlikely to affect consumer prices. Though North Dakota is a major farm state, "it's a drop in the bucket for some of these major crops like corn and soybeans," he said.

The U.S. Agriculture Department's June acreage report said North Dakota had the biggest decline among the states in planted acres of all main crops — down 2.1 million from last year. That was a 9 percent drop, and it accounted for more than half the nationwide decline of 3.9 million acres in crops overall.

Record flooding across North Dakota this past spring made for a tough planting season for farmers. Many fields went unseeded. Corn has been affected the most, with the 25 percent drop to 1.9 million acres — the biggest drop in the nation.

"It seems like a fairly accurate prediction," said Larimore farmer Jay Nissen, president of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association. "We didn't get a lot of crop in. We just didn't dry out."

Some farmers had to finish up last year's weather-delayed corn harvest before they could sow a new crop this spring. About 10 percent of North Dakota's corn crop — an estimated 20 million bushels — had to be left in the fields over the winter, leading to unprecedented amounts of standing corn late into the spring.

The Agriculture Department's Risk Management Agency has said the flooding in eastern North Dakota could lead to a situation similar to 1997, when flooding left hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted. Final numbers won't be known until September at the earliest.

Swenson said some farmers might be better off with the prevented planting insurance but the lack of activity in the fields at harvest time could hurt some small communities that rely on farmers' business.

The flooding did not appear to hurt soybean acres in North Dakota. USDA is projecting a record crop of 4.1 million acres, up 7 percent from last year.

Under federal rules, farmers can plant soybeans later than corn and still be eligible for full crop insurance coverage.

North Dakota is one of five states in which the estimated soybean area is up more than 200,000 acres over the year, along with South Dakota, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri. USDA said tight supplies and high prices are driving an increase in soybean acres nationwide, with an expected record U.S. crop of 77.5 million acres.

North Dakota is known more for its wheat than for corn or soybeans. Little change is expected in the wheat crop this year. Spring wheat acres are estimated at 6.7 million, down just 1 percent, with durum wheat pegged at 1.7 million acres, down 6 percent.

Other North Dakota planting estimates:

— Barley, 1.2 million acres, down 27 percent;

— Oats, 270,000 acres, down 16 percent to a record low;

— Canola, 740,000 acres, down 19 percent;

— Oil sunflowers, 840,000 acres, down 13 percent;

— Dry edible beans, 600,000 acres, down 9 percent;

— Sugar beets, 230,000 acres, up 11 percent;

— Alfalfa hay, 1.5 million acres, down 10 percent;

— Flaxseed, 330,000 acres, down 1 percent.

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