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Wheat harvest arrives

Fields of grain are turning golden around Fergus Falls on Tuesday as harvest time approaches. (Dave Wallis /The Forum)

FARGO -- Scott Lee likes what he's seeing in his wheat harvest this year.

"The yields overall are pretty good, and the quality is very good," said the Benson, Minn., farmer.

Lee was one of the first farmers in the region to begin harvesting what's expected to be a solid wheat crop.

But the harvest is late, due mainly to the wet spring that delayed planting.

"There's just not much combining yet," said Mike Rose, Ward County extension agent in Minot, N.D.

North Dakota farmers have harvested only 3 percent of their wheat, compared with the five-year average of 43 percent in mid-August, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Minnesota producers have harvested 9 percent of their wheat, compared with the five-year average of 45 percent.

Lee said his wheat is on land that dried out quickly this spring, allowing him to plant on schedule.

Though late, wheat - the first of the region's major crops to be planted and harvested - is doing well.

Eighty-eight percent of North Dakota spring wheat, the kind of wheat used to make bread, is in good or excellent condition, according to the USDA.

North Dakota this year will harvest its biggest spring wheat crop in 13 years, the USDA predicted last week.

The cool summer helped wheat, which doesn't fare well in hot weather.

Wheat is North Dakota's most important crop and also is a staple of western Minnesota agriculture.

Seventy percent of Minnesota spring wheat is in good or excellent shape.

Last year, North Dakota produced wheat valued at $2.3 billion, with Minnesota wheat valued at $714 million, according to the USDA.

Both figures are likely to fall this year, even with strong production.

Wheat, which brought an average price of $7.20 per bushel in North Dakota last year, currently fetches less than $5 per bushel.

Other area crops generally look good, too, but remain at risk of frost damage, despite hot weather this month, according to USDA numbers.

Fargo had three straight days this month with a daily high above 90 degrees, according to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network.

Nonetheless, area crops aren't as advanced as they should be because of the cool June and July.

Sunflowers in North Dakota, the nation's leading producer of the crop, are 10 to 12 days behind average in growing degree days, said the National Sunflower Association.

Growing degree days measure accumulated heat and indicate when a crop will reach maturity.

Dennis Feiken, a La-Moure, N.D., farmer, said recent heat has "pushed," or speeded the maturity of, his crops, but they remain less advanced than normal.

"We could use a lot more days with highs in the low and mid-80s," he said.