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The suspended reality of spring for North Dakota farms

"When it comes down to it, all planting right now feels very 'prospective.' Something will go into the ground, but we don't know when and we don't completely know what. We're at the mercy of the weather, and we know well enough that we don't know what that will look like."

Several cows and calves stand in a corral lightly covered in snow.
After a pleasant mid-March melted most of the snow in central North Dakota, late March and early April brought several storms that seemed to chase thoughts of spring away, Jenny Schlecht says. Photo taken March 21, 2022, near Medina, North Dakota.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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In recent weeks, we've learned a lot about what farmers in the U.S. are planning to plant this year . More soybeans, less corn, less wheat. Here in North Dakota, more specialty crops.

And while all of this has a dizzying impact on the markets , there remains a lot of questions about what actually will go into the fields.

Because, at least here in central North Dakota, it's not looking like anything close to planting season.

A pleasant mid-March left the snow gone everywhere save the remaining, now dirty, piles of melting snow that had been pushed up when it got thick in the winter. The backyard dried up to the point the kids could play out there without boots. The corrals were bare and less muddy than in some springs. I started wearing sweatshirts and light jackets outside instead of heavy coats. I started noticing little shoots of green in the yard, and the fall-planted fields started to show signs of growth.

It seemed like real spring — where you stop worrying quite as much about snow and blizzards and just get down to the business of getting work done in the spring — had arrived or at the very least was just around the corner.

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Jenny Schlecht
Jenny Schlecht

But instead, late March and early April have brought more bouts of snow and cold and made planting and other spring things seem like a far-off thing.

That's why, when I've sat at my desk, reading and editing stories about what's going to be planted, I'm a little skeptical.

Because, does anyone really know what's coming?

It might warm up tomorrow and stay that way, and all the predictions will be right on the money. But it seems equally possible that it'll warm up, then snow and cold will blow in, leaving wet, muddy conditions, and the thought of planting anything, again, will seem a far-off thing. Or it might really warm up and dry out, and everyone will keep thinking about last year's drought and wonder what might fare the best if that happens.

Read more of Jenny Schlecht's "The Sorting Pen"
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The peach crops from the south have been slow because of a variety of weather problems, Jenny Schlecht learned. It was a good reminder that farming isn't easy whether you've got wheat fields or orchards.
Listening sessions are underway for a new farm bill. What needs to be there and what doesn't?

It very well could be that everything will go just right. Real spring will come and stay, we'll get timely rains that put minds at ease. But until that starts coming, all planting in this area seems very prospective.

Of course, this is just the pessimism that comes from being in the midst of another round of rain and snow and cold when I thought I had put my heavy coat in the closet for good. Of course, planting will come. Spring will arrive for real, just like it eventually always does. What will end up in the fields may not match what the USDA thinks, but then again, it might.

I always feel like I'm stuck in a suspended reality this time of year. It's sort of still winter. It's sort of spring. There are new calves on the ground, and most of them have been born without problems, but sometimes we still worry about too cold of nights and too damp of conditions. Spring planting has been planned but still feels so far away.

When it comes down to it, all planting right now feels very "prospective." Something will go into the ground, but we don't know when and we don't completely know what. We're at the mercy of the weather, and we know well enough that we don't know what that will look like.

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Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.

Opinion by Jenny Schlecht
Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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