The Red River flood is the latest headache for farmers in northwest Minnesota, who in some cases are still trying to finish last year's harvest. It's possible some land close to the river will not get planted at all this year. Farmers in the rest of Minnesota could also face planting delays if the weather stays wet.
This is how bad it's been for one farmer near the Red River.
Bryan Hest says he finally finished picking last year's corn a week and a half ago. Heavy fall rains and deep winter snows prevented him from completing the job until now. And even to finish this spring was an accomplishment, he had to do something he'd never done before. He ended up driving his combine through the foot of standing water covering the last field. The ground underneath the water was frozen solid enough to support the heavy machinery.
"I still shake my head, and I can't believe we got so lucky as to get that out when we did," said Hest. "An hour after we finished, it was raining and just about like a movie, it couldn't have worked out nicer."
But the corn didn't suffer from the water, he still had a great yield. He says when he finally completed the corn picking, he went straight from the combine to sandbagging duty.
His farm place is surrounded now by roughly four feet of water lapping against a protective dike. The wet weather could delay spring planting anywhere from two weeks to a month. When that happens, it often means lower yields at harvest.
Mark Jossund farms near the Red River, about 20 miles north of Moorhead. He says it will be a month or more until some farmers can get into the field.
"Along the river, it's going to be well into May I'm sure," said Jossund. "All the moisture last fall, and now with this wet snow, I'm afraid the river is going to stay not at it's peak, but it's going to stay high in those areas along the Red River for an extended amount of time."
Jossund says even unflooded land is still soaked from all the precipitation and will need an extended period to dry.
When farmers finally get going this spring, it looks like they'll be planting less wheat in northwest Minnesota. The USDA says Minnesota farmers will cut wheat planting 7 percent this spring over last year.
Grain analyst Mark Schultz with Northstar Commodity in Minneapolis says lower wheat prices are a big reason for the drop.
"Last year at this time, you had sharply higher prices. I think in February-March what were we dealing with - $16 to $18-$19 wheat futures. So you're going to put crop wherever you can," said Schultz. "Now it's not nearly as attractive, $5.95 to six dollars a bushel for wheat."
In many ways, the economics of farming are the reverse of one year ago. The world wide recession and better harvests are driving grain prices lower. With prices down, the USDA says Minnesota farmers are expected to plant about one percent less corn and soybeans this year compared with 2008. Some of that may be due to the high cost of fertilizer, seed and other crop inputs.
Nationwide there will be several million acres less planted to the big grain crops. Some of that land may be used instead for pasture or hay. The prices of wheat, corn and soybeans all rose sharply yesterday on the reduced acres news.
Weather conditions over the next month or so could change what farmers actually plant. Continued wet weather could result in farmers planting more soybeans and less corn, since late planted corn often yields poorly.
That's especially true in the Red River Valley, where farmer Mark Jossund has a simple wish.
"We need a nice April. Good temperatures, below normal precipitation," said Jossund. "And a nice slow melt here on what's left on the ground."
Right now it looks like spring planting though is a long way off. Jossund says about a third of his land is under water.