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Fall fieldwork is focus but saturated soils have some thinking of spring

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Willmar, 56201
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

THOMPSON, N.D. -- Jay Robinson zipped up and down a field Wednesday near Thompson, N.D., in a yellow 8203 Terra-Gator, spreading fertilizer for next year's crop.

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Farther north along Interstate 29 a big, green cultivator pulled by a four-wheel drive tractor worked up a field as area farmers got back to work combining sunflowers and corn after a rain delay last week.

With the bare soil temperature about 40 degrees and fields getting a good dose of a drying wind, conditions are good for finishing up fall fieldwork. That's a welcome change for area farmers who, this spring, were juggling harvesting 2009 corn with field preparation for the 2010 crop. Last year, a late spring and extremely wet October combined to delay the corn harvest and in many cases, brought fall tillage work to a halt.

The past several days, farmers -- and everyone else in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota -- have been enjoying another run of unseasonably warm weather. Wednesday, the temperature rose to 53 degrees at the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, N.D. The average high temperature in Grand Forks on Nov. 3 is 44 degrees, according to the Weather Service.

Most of October was the antithesis of last year and the warm, dry weather allowed farmers to have the bulk of their corn and sunflowers combined, as well as get a head start on fertilizer application for next year's crop.

High rivers, wet soil

Area river levels, including for the Red River, also are unusually high for this time of year.

On Monday, the river level in Grand Forks was 30.65 feet, the highest level recorded on Nov. 1, said Jim Kaiser, a Weather Service meteorologist. However, the 30.65 feet wasn't the highest ever recorded in November. That was recorded on Nov. 4, 2004, when the river peaked at 30.95 feet in Grand Forks-East Grand Forks. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Red in Grand Forks was 29.88 feet and falling.

Not only is the river higher than normal for November, but soils also are saturated. On Monday, the National Agricultural Statistics Service rated topsoil conditions in North Dakota 89 percent adequate or surplus, compared to the five-year average of 73 percent adequate or surplus. In Minnesota, topsoil conditions were rated 98 percent average or surplus. The five-year Minnesota average of topsoil conditions was unavailable.

While high area river levels and saturated soils have some already thinking spring flooding, that might not necessarily transpire, Kaiser said.

"It matters only if we have a deep snowpack and our melt is delayed into spring and we have precipitation on top of that. ... Statistically, it is insignificant," he said.

The six- to 10-day outlook for the Grand Forks area for the period beginning Nov. 10 is for below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation. However, since the average precipitation for that period is 0.14 inches, that doesn't mean a deluge is expected.

"Any precipitation, almost, in the forecast is higher than normal," Kaiser said.

Ann Bailey writes for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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