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Frost hits beans in region, but overall impact thought to be limited

Crops in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota generally appear to be OK after an early morning frost Wednesday. However, more time is needed to assess the frost's impact on dry edible bean and soybean fields in areas where temperatures sunk the most, officials said.

"I think we dodged a bullet," said Lionel Olson, North Dakota State University Extension Service agent in Grand Forks County.

However, more time is needed to assess the frost's impact on dry edible bean and soybean fields in areas where temperatures sunk the most, officials said.

North Dakota leads the nation in production of dry beans, which don't tolerate frost at any stage of plant growth and which usually are the last crop planted in the region.

"There was some (frost damage), but it's hard to say how much," said Dennis Dalbey, manager of the Fordville (N.D.) Co-op Marketing Association, which handles pinto beans.

Temperatures in his area and some other parts of the region fell as low as 28 degrees early Wednesday and stayed there for as long as three hours, according to anecdotal reports. The extent of crop damage is determined, in part, by a combination of how far temperatures fall and how long the freezing temperatures last.

Not long enough

A field's elevation relative to neighboring fields also can be a factor. Cold air is denser than warm air and pools in low-lying areas. One field might suffer little or no frost damage, while an adjacent field at a slightly lower elevation might suffer greater damage, experts said.

Likewise, low-lying spots in one field might be hurt by frost while the rest of the field isn't, said James Stordahl, University of Minnesota Extension educator in Polk County. "Farmers will be out checking the low spots in their fields. They know where those spots are."

Stordahl said he doubts extensive damage was done to crops in his county. "I don't think it was cold enough long enough."

Brad Brummond, extension agent in Walsh County, N.D., spent about an hour and a half Wednesday morning surveying fields for frost damage. His best estimate is that overall damage wasn't severe, though some individual fields might have been hurt.

Karl Jodock, a Northwood, N.D., farmer, said frost hit some of his fields. He was optimistic that damage is minor, but he stressed that more time is needed before the impact can be evaluated fully.

Temperatures in parts of Minnesota's Marshall County reportedly fell as low as 28 degrees, which could hurt some soybeans, said Howard Person, extension agent.

Other crops

Sugar beets in the northern Red River Valley don't appear to have been hurt, said Dan Berhardson, director of agriculture for Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Co.

"I haven't had any reports of damaged beets," he said. "I don't think it was cold enough long enough."

Wheat and corn also appear to be relatively unscathed by Wednesday's frost, ag officials said.

Soybeans and dry beans are broadleaf plants and their growing point is exposed above the soil surface, making them more vulnerable to frost.

In contrast, the growing point of grasses such as wheat and corn is below the soil surface until the fifth leaf emerges. That makes those crops less susceptible to spring frost.

Knutson writes for Grand Forks, N.D.-based Agweek, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.