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Published December 06, 2013, 09:07 AM

Snow hampering harvest of some Dakotas row crops

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Snow in early October and early December is pushing the fall harvest of some row crops in the Dakotas into the winter months, and farmers might be forced to leave some corn in the field until spring.

By: BLAKE NICHOLSON, Associated Press, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Snow in early October and early December is pushing the fall harvest of some row crops in the Dakotas into the winter months, and farmers might be forced to leave some corn in the field until spring.

That hasn't happened since 2009, when a delayed harvest forced some North Dakota farmers to harvest the following year as they prepared for spring planting. The federal government also took the unusual step of revising its official corn production estimate for North Dakota.

That's a possibility with the 2013 crop, though it is more remote because most of the corn is already in the bin, said Darin Jantzi, North Dakota director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. The latest reports show the North Dakota corn harvest at more than 90 percent complete. In 2009, only 68 percent of the crop was combined just five days before Christmas.

"This year we're a lot farther along, but there are some acres that are still out there," Jantzi said.

Farmers have been hampered by a late spring, a late harvest, two snowstorms including the one that hit the state this week, and a regional shortage of propane fuel, which they need to dry wet corn so it doesn't spoil. Mike Clemens, who farms near the southeastern North Dakota town of Wimbledon, said the shortage delayed him only one day but that for others the wait was much longer.

"Right in our local area, there's still a handful of producers with some corn out in the field," he said. "With the weather change dramatically to the lousy side, (spring harvesting) could be a reality."

However, if there is some nice weather and the snow isn't deep enough to cover up the corn ears, some of the farmers with crops in the field can still get them in, Clemens said.

"In the past I've harvested corn all the way up to Christmas," he said.

Jantzi said he also has received reports that some sunflower fields might be left until spring. The harvests in both North Dakota and South Dakota — the top sunflower-producing states — both are about 90 percent complete.

However, sunflower industry leaders say they expect the harvests to finish before spring. The sunflower seeds are in the heads at the top of the plant and are far less likely than corn to be covered by snow, so sunflowers can be harvested all winter long if the weather permits, said John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association.

Tom Young, who has grown sunflowers near the central South Dakota town of Onida for decades, said he also expects the rest of the Dakotas crop to get brought in.

"It's just a matter of how much snow is on the heads of the sunflowers," he said. "Corn will shed it, usually, but sunflowers will hold it. So sometimes you have to wait until that snow is off the heads."

USDA's final corn and sunflower production report is due out Jan. 10, and the official estimates will include some corn and sunflower farmers' best guesses as to what their actual production will be.

"This year, given the percentage that's been harvested, it may not be as big of an issue," Jantzi said.

Even if USDA ends up revising its estimate next spring, the difference in numbers is not likely to be big enough to influence commodity markets, based on history, he said.

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