After what seemed like a never-ending stretch of hot weather this summer, the script has been flipped on its head with the sudden invasion of below-freezing temperatures.
The corn in Medina may be nice and green right now, but thanks to some uncharacteristically cold temperatures for this time of the year, farmers across the state may be forced to harvest their corn, as well as other crops, a lot earlier then they wanted to.
“If we could pick what we wanted, we wouldn’t want a frost right now,” said Medina farmer Richie Heinrich.
There’s a saying among old-timers that winter never misses North Dakota. Just a few days ago, Bismarck climbed to 93 degrees. But Tuesday morning, temperatures plunged into the upper teens and 20s for many locations, even dipping to 18 in Alamo, Williams County, and that cold effectively ended the growing season early.
And for farmers like Heinrich, who got a late start to the season because the ground was too wet, the last thing he needed was an early freeze, which could end his corn growth before it’s properly matured.
“If they’re not physiologically mature, it’ll definitely hurt the test weight or will reduce yield. If we get the freeze too early, fortunately, if we compare it to last year we had way more heat units and growing degree days then we did last year, so we’re actually further ahead in terms of maturity, with our crops than what we were a year ago, but with that being said, if we could hold off another 10 days or two weeks for a frost, that would be beneficial for us,” said Heinrich.
On average, the first freeze occurs for most of the state in the third or fourth week of September, with a few locations out west seeing it slightly earlier. And this time of the year, every growing day is critical.
There is some good news. Even though the cold is bad for corn crops, the North Dakota Wheat Commission tells KX News wheat production should, for the most part, be OK.
And while your mind may be on row crops, the early cold could also have a big impact on apples, North Dakota’s No. 1 fruit crop.
KX News chatted with State Horticulturist Tom Kalb who tells us apples can take a light frost, but really nothing under 28 degrees.
“They think the frost will make apples sweeter, but that’s not really true. What makes an apple sweet is the warm sunny days and the cool night’s of fall, and that will build up the sugars in the apple. And so we would recommend if your apples are ripe to go ahead and pick them do not wait for a frost. A frost is not gonna make a difference for you,” said Kalb.
And for farmers with row crops, less time to grow means less money in their pockets.
“They’ll be lower test weight which will give up lower bushels, probably increase drying costs so that’s the downfall of getting a frost too early,” said Heinrich
And while fall may not be for another two weeks, it’s already shaping up to be a challenging one.
If you’re a backyard gardener, you’re advised to cover up any sensitive vegetation yet again Tuesday night.