EDINBURG, N.D. — Gray clouds spitting rain on his eyeglasses, Lindsey Fingarson pulls up a rain gauge from the soggy ground on his farmstead near Edinburg. The gauge, mud sticking to its bottom, registered 1.25 inches.
For Fingarson and other northern Walsh County farmers, the rain, when it finally came, was too late to help this year’s crops. In the past two weeks, Fingarson’s farm has received a total of 2 inches. That’s the same amount that fell during the previous three months.
All summer, Fingarson made trips to the farmstead adjacent to his sunflower field to check the rain gauge after summer showers and was disappointed to find only a few drops in it.
“You come down and It was like ‘Oh man,’” Fingarson said. “It was awful.”
Now the opposite extreme is causing Fingarson to be disheartened.
“The timing of the rain is all wrong,” he said on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
That’s because, besides being too late to help his drought-damaged early crops, the rains hurt Fingarson’s wheat crop; though, it yielded well despite the dry conditions. Fingarson’s wheat, like many farmers’ crops, sprouted, which reduced their value.
“After the crop is ripe, if it gets wet again, it will start to sprout,” said Tom Burchill, Walsh Grain Terminal LLC manager. ”Kind of halfway through the season, we got some rains and it started to affect the quality of the wheat so it isn’t appropriate for selling to mills."
Farmers can get discounts of more than a dollar a bushel on wheat if the results of the “falling numbers” test,” which helps identify whether it will be suitable to mill into flour for baking, are too low.
The wheat kernels can appear normal, but still be sprouted and have low falling numbers, Burchill said.
“Most mills don’t want anything below 300,” he said.
Walsh Grain will accept wheat with falling numbers under 300, but it is discounted. Discounts can be more than $1 per bushel, depending on how low the falling numbers are. With wheat prices only slightly above $4 per bushel, that’s a big hit for farmers.
“This is not a break-even price,” Fingarson said.
About 180 acres of Fingarson’s 600 acres of wheat had sprout damage, he said.
“It’s like somebody kicked me in the stomach,” he said.
Fingarson has weathered drought, excessive rains and diseased crops, during his 34-year farming career, but this year may be his worst, he said. Costs for crop inputs, such as seed, fertilizer and chemical, have risen without a commensurate rise in the price farmers are paid when they sell the grain.
“I think it’s the scariest year because what it costs per acre has gone up,” Fingarson said.
Burchill isn’t any happier about the sprout damage and discounted wheat than are the farmers.
“It’s horrible. We would love for this problem to go away,” he said.
It’s not likely to this year because the forecast for the next few days is for rain. That will mean harvest probably won’t resume until next week. Slightly more than one-third or 68% of North Dakota’s wheat crop was harvested as of Sept. 8, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, North Dakota.
In Minnesota, about 80% of the state’s wheat crop was harvested as of Sept. 8, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota said. The state’s harvest was nine days behind average, the statistics service said.
Near Edinburg, Fingarson is waiting for the fields to dry so he can harvest his next round of crops. He still has a total of about 500 acres of canola, sunflowers and soybeans to combine.
The irony of needing to wear rubber boots on Sept. 10 to check his nearly ripe soybean field wasn’t lost on the Edinburg farmer.
“It’s been a long time,” Fingarson said, walking through the field, his boots bringing up mud with every step.
If there’s a bright spot in this month’s rains, it’s that the subsoil moisture in areas, such as far northeastern North Dakota, is being replenished. Despite the recent rains, subsoil moisture isn’t yet adequate, Burchill said.
“Our subsoil is very dry. We need to recharge for the next crop,” he said.
Said Fingarson: “It’s got to be good for next year. You’ve got to be positive.”