snow in corn field

The mid-October blizzard left large amounts of snow in unharvested fields as seen in this corn field near Valley City. Photo by Dale Hildebrant

A late fall blizzard that dumped as much as 30 inches of snow in some regions of the state is greatly complicating the lives of farmers and ranchers across the state. Drifts of snow over eight feet tall could be seen on the west and north edges of corn fields in the Carrington area, according to Mike Ostlie, agronomist at the Carrington Research Extension Center.

His counterpart at the Langdon Research Extension Center, Bryan Hanson, said that area of the state had over 20 inches of snow. At the Langdon station, the snowfall measured 20 inches with a moisture equivalent of 2.3 inches. That came on the heels of the second wettest September on record.

Most of the canola has been harvested in that area of the state, but there are still a few fields of wheat still standing.

“The wheat that is still out there is shot,” Hanson said. “The last thing on their mind right now would be taking care of the wheat. The big concern now is soybean harvest, and there is some corn and a few sunflower fields here and there.”

He noted the soybeans are half covered with snow, or even more in some cases, and for those soybeans that hadn’t reached full maturity yet, the insulating property of the snow could be of benefit to those plants. But he figures most of the soybeans were at maturity or close to it.

When it comes to harvesting, Hanson said producers may need to take advantage of frozen ground and harvest early in the morning or whenever the frozen ground will carry the combine.

Ostlie said he doesn’t feel anyone is too concerned about the corn right now, but the soybeans are another story.

“Last year we had a wide area east of here that had about 18 inches of snow on the soybeans in October, but the snow melted and we had a pretty nice fall after that,” Ostlie said. “One thing we did learn from that is if you were able to get across that ground, the soybeans were still largely okay. Some fields were horribly lodged, but things like shatter loss and the beans being of poor quality weren’t as much of a problem as we thought it would be.

“However, this year is different because everybody was so wet before this snow came,” he continued. “Now we might be in a situation where the quality of the beans is going to be okay, but how are we going to get them? The ground freezing is probably the only realistic shot we are looking at to get any soybeans harvested.”

He noted most of the corn and soybeans did reach maturity before the freezing temperatures came.

“I have a hard time right now figuring where the corn is at,” Ostlie said. “It seems like more of the corn got to maturity than we were predicting from the heat units it received. Heat unit wise, we shouldn’t have been anyway near physiological maturity, but I think there are number of the early planted fields that did get there before the corn froze. There is going to be a lot of wet corn, especially what was planted after May 1, but that corn which was planted earlier, even in the cold, wet soils, did move along a bit faster.”

Western North Dakota

Throughout the western region of the state, many fall crops had not reached maturity before a frost the second week in October. Significant rain and wet snow, heavy in areas, has further delayed harvest and damaged fall crops.

“Corn for grain and sunflowers may have a lot of problems with mold,” said Clair Keene, area Extension specialist in cropping systems at NDSU Williston Research Extension Center.

With a cold spring, many producers planted late, especially corn.

“Whether or not the corn for grain made it to black layer or not would depend on planting date and maturity planted,” Keene said. “There were lots of late plantings around the western region due to the cold spring.”

With the weather, including cooler than normal temps throughout the summer, the western areas did not receive the normal heat units, so maturity was a “struggle.”

Dry down of crops, including late-maturing hemp varieties, will be tough with all the rain received in September and the rain/snow mix in October, along with low temperatures.

Hemp needs to be planted into warm soils, and the cool spring did not allow for early planting.

Even some wheat missed harvest.

Max Robison, NDSU Extension agent in ag and natural resources in Bowman County, said while the flowers look “okay” out in the fields, there was some wheat left to cut that didn’t get cut due to the weather conditions.

“The wheat that was left in the fields will likely be damaged,” Robison said.

Sunflowers, however, look “okay” in the southwest and will probably pull through, even with the wet conditions.

Corn was close to maturing before temperatures dropped the week ending Oct. 11.

“The corn in the region was close to maturity when the temperatures suddenly dropped into the 20s-30s,” Robison said.

Along with those temperatures, some rain and snow fell on Oct. 10-11, but it was only a couple to a few inches, nothing like the heavy snow that fell in the central and eastern regions of the state, leading to the closing down of  I-94 from Bismarck to Fargo and I-29 up to the Canadian Border.

There are some concerns the corn for grain could suffer yield loss due to not having enough dry days to dry down.

In McKenzie County, Sidney Sugars started sugarbeet harvest at the end of September, but had to quit a few days later due to wet, rainy and snowy conditions.


Many cattle herds were caught out in the pasture as the snowstorm descended onto the central and eastern regions of the state. Despite that, Ostlie said he hasn’t heard of any large losses of livestock in the Carrington area. However, many producers are wondering how they will feed their animals in the short term due to snow cover on the pastures and wet conditions to move hay supplies.

Some producers were also hoping to put up some corn silage for feed and haven’t been able to make much progress in that operation.

“There hasn’t been many windows of opportunity to cut silage, and that corn is still out there and producers are relying on that for their feed,” Ostlie said. “The conditions for getting the hay in is also going to be tough.”

Even though the livestock numbers are fewer in the Langdon area, Hanson echoed the concern that producers have in getting hay moved into feeding areas for the winter.

Producers in the west were hurrying to bring in their cow/calf pairs from summer pastures to closer to home, especially with winter weather in the forecast for the week ending Oct. 11.

“They want to get livestock in close so they can be fed more easily,” Robison said.

NDAWN reported significant rainfall totals for the western regions in September.

According to NDAWN, Berthold recorded 8.89 inches of rain; Watford City, 5.77 inches; Williston, 7.90 inches; Hettinger, 4.13 inches; Bowman, 4.12 inches; Bowbells, 6.69 inches; Mott, 4.58 inches; Minot, 8.08 inches; Beach, on the North Dakota/Montana border, 6.75 inches and Dickinson, 7.74 inches.

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