The calendar may say April 5, but the thermometer readings are mighty cold and it is keeping tractors and the seeders they pull idle and farmers on notice that winter may not be over yet.
"We will still need quite a few days of warmer weather before producers will be seeding," said Chester Hill, agricultural extension specialist at the Williston Research Extension Center. "This past weekend a lot of snow melted, but it still will be a minimum of three weeks roughly before we will see much activity in the fields."
A North Dakota crop progress and condition report released March 25 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service indicated that average snow depths statewide were 12.2 inches on March 24 -- the same amount of snow on the ground on March 27, 2011.
In comparison, there was almost no snow cover on March 25, 2012.
The report stated that producers across the state seem to be aiming to get their equipment into the fields by April 22.
If that is the case, it will be a few weeks later than producers were in the fields last year, when they started planting within the first few days of April, according to the report.
Both dates are also ahead of where they were two years ago when producers were not able to begin spring fieldwork, on average, until early May, according to the USDA.
Calli Thorne, a North Dakota State University extension agent for McKenzie County, said temperatures need to warm up enough to thaw the ground before planting can get underway.
"This year's (planting) season will be later than last year's since it was much drier last year," she said. "I would assume farmers will be in the field no later than May, unless it stays cold and we keep getting snow."
Last year, though it lacked moisture, Thorne said it wasn't a bad year for area agriculture producers.
"I know people aren't very worried at the moment (about not being in the fields) because they are enjoying the moisture," she said. "It is only the end of March, so they have time."
Hill said the goal is to have a majority of the crops planted by mid-May "to achieve the best yields."
"Producers have gone into early June but yields drop off quite a bit because the crop is developing through much more dryer and hotter weather," he said. "I would say the latest (farmers in the southwest part of the state have gotten into the fields) is mid-May and finishing up by first part of June. Farmers in southwest North Dakota are usually in the fields a week to 10 days before the northwest part of the state.
"This year, it will be even a wider spread since the northwest part of the state has much more snow on the ground than the southwest."
Though the calendar indicates its spring, Leon Osborne, a University of North Dakota professor of atmospheric sciences and the director of the UND Regional Weather Information Center and the Surface Transportation Weather Research Center in Grand Forks, warns producers not to expect long-term warm up anytime soon.
He predicts that it will remain cold through late spring, which could mean the potential for a late frost that could harm any crops that may have been planted early.
Osborne looks for temperatures to return to near normal in early summer before the mercury shoots up in August and through October -- just as producers are harvesting their crops.
In comparison, Hill said last year's planting season started much earlier than normal.
"Many producers should have gotten out sooner because they were caught with some rainy weather during the planting season," he said. "Then, by the end June, we went to hotter and drier weather, which lowered the yields. The producers who got in early saw some pretty good yields."
Following a year like 2012, producers may try to push the limits of the soil with early planting. But Rick Marsh, a sales representative for Southwest Grain, said farmers should proceed with caution.
"Yes, it is early," he said. "Last year, we were actually done planting in a couple of weeks. In my mind, it's too early, but I've lost some arguments on it. If you're going to plant early, you're going to have to worry about cold soil, cold temperatures, and possibly emerging plants in freezing weather."
There are a few things Marsh recommends producers can do that will help to lessen the chances that they will lose crops to the cold temperatures in early spring.
"If you can't hold back, it will probably be necessary to consider a product to help you with early seed health in the soil," he said. "Later on, you must have a minimum of a couple of fungicides in your seed treatment."