Wheat is more than the backbone of North Dakota’s economy.
Long before the state was even conceived, the crop has been both a sweet friend and fickle lover as climates, with markets in tow, shift to their rhythms.
For generations the average farmer on the Western Edge tended to focus on one of three types of wheat: hard red spring wheat, hard red winter wheat or durum, a circulation that depends on weather, labor distribution and the overall health of their land.
Although the majority of farmland in the southwestern region of North Dakota is dedicated to spring wheat, this time of year fields should be filled with rows of hard red winter wheat, a crop that is usually planted during the fall, normally September, and harvested in the early spring.
“In order for the winter wheat to seed, it has to go through a dormancy period,” Amy Norby, an agronomist at CHS Southwest Grain, told the Press. “It starts to regrow in the spring and is usually one of the wheats that gets harvested first because it’s grown first.”
This season, a chillier, moister climate has made the grain a capricious sweetheart in all its forms.
Indeed, Sept. 2018 experienced an average of 1.54 inches of precipitation and an average low of 41 degrees. This year, the same month saw an average of 4.27 inches of precipitation with an average low of 38.
“There’s a lot of wheat that did not get harvested in the state of North Dakota, because of the wet fall,” Norby said. “There wasn’t a lot of winter wheat seeded locally because it was so wet.”
A recent USDA crop progress report confirms Norby’s assertion by estimating that 89 percent of North Dakota’s spring wheat had been harvested during the 2019 season, a market decline compared to previous years.
The same department also projects a decline in the crop’s overall condition, with only 72 percent of the grain evaluated as “good.”
“There’s a lot of wheat that’s not the typical quality that we raise,” Norby said, corroborating the statewide report. “Some of it is feed quality, not milling quality.”
A major reason behind planting winter wheat during the fall is to fan out the workload for each of the coming seasons. Many farmers will find themselves seeding in the fall so they don’t have as many acres to get to during the spring.
“They kind of get a jump-start when they spread out the labor,” Norby said.
This year, an overwhelming majority of farmers have had enough of a hard time just getting their spring wheat off and finishing that harvest, before giving any thought to the subject of winter wheat.
North Dakota’s old friend may be ambivalent this season, but as the old agrarian adage goes — next year is sure to be better.