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OPINION

News behind the news - late corn harvest and viruses

John Oncken
The grain bins are ready.

Corn stalks were still standing in snow on March 9th...a most unusual sight in North Dakota or anywhere else for that matter. In some places combines are making their way through the snowy rows in the fields just outside of Grand Forks, N.D.; an unusual scene staring farmers in the face as they try to wrap up a year that's been anything but normal. 

Four months late

The harvest of 2019 has now turned into the harvest of 2020, as some upper Midwest farmers are just weeks away from needing to plant their 2020 crops. Few farmers have seen corn still standing in late December much less in mid-March, but that's the story today as thousands of acres still await the combine. North Dakota farmers aren’t the only ones still dealing with the remnants of 2019. Farmers in western Minnesota are also still seeing unharvested corn fields.

Fields of corn in eastern North Dakota waiting for harvest.

The last time combines were running in these fields was in December and they haven’t been able to harvest their crops since. 

“We just stopped and pulled out," one farmer said. "It's not worth it to keep on trying and to break equipment. We figured it's better to wait and then just let the snow melt, and hopefully it gets to the point where we can actually get out there and get the crop out decently.”

Some are moving

While he’s hoping to start back up soon, other farmers are deciding to take the chance and begin harvesting again. 

Moisture in the corn fell slightly. Yields are rather good and harvesting the snowed under corn is going surprisingly smooth. 

“We definitely expected the test weight to increase some just by drying down naturally and then the cold weather drawing the moisture out," a farmer said. "But it hasn't happened quite as much as you can normally expect just because it was so late to begin with."

Edges of the fields are in bad condition.

While the yield is worth saving in the middle of the snowed under fields, the outside rows were beat up by the weather and won’t be harvested at all. In the interior of every field the quality should still be good enough, experts explain. "It’s going to be hard to harvest, but it will definitely be worth it to get out there and get the middle of these fields."

Not all good

While some fields are yielding well, with moisture content coming down and test weights actually seeing a bump, that’s not the case everywhere. Frayne Olson of North Dakota State University says the quality profile of North Dakota’s crop being harvested is all across the board.

“We've heard that some are getting good yields and good quality, as the crop was planted on time and they chose the right varieties,” he says. “But it’s everywhere from that down to some really, really tough stuff with high moisture.” 

Farmers in the Northern Plains and all across the country know that weather is always a challenge with 2019 still far from forgotten.

By and large the fields look good.

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Family leadership

Pam Selz-Pralle, a dairy producer from Humbird in Clark county was elected president of the Wisconsin Holstein Association (WHA) during the organization’s recent 103rd annual meeting in Fond du Lac. Selz-Pralle and her husband, Scott, own and operate Selz-Pralle Dairy, where they milk 450 Registered Holsteins including the world leading milk production cow, Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918, who produced 78,170 pounds of milk in her last lactation. They also manage 1,000 acres of crop land.

Perhaps unknown to most folks is that her father John Selz also served as Wisconsin  Holstein association president in the 1960s. I know because as a young county agent in Clark County I noted that the WHA leadership was heavily based in southeastern Wisconsin with no officers from the central area of the state. I convinced John to run for office which he did and was elected two years later and eventually became WHA president and later on also headed the national Holstein Association.

John Selz and I were friends for many years and I watched his daughter Pam grow up on the home farm (formerly called Joliam Holsteins) and become a leader in many aspects of agriculture. I don’t think there were any other father-daughter WHA presidents but I’ll bet there have not been any other father/daughter/husband presidents as Pam’s husband Scott also served as president in the early 2000s.

Pam Selz Pralle, president of the 1,900 member Wisconsin Holstein Association.

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Fearsome fears

The Coronavirus seems to have taken over all news and social media. I think back to my younger days when it was expected and did happen that every youngster got mumps, measles and chicken pox. I well remember my brother getting measles which also meant I was also quarantined at home. Then I got measles, then he got mumps and I followed with mumps and missed about six or eight weeks of my freshman year in high school.  

Oh yes, chicken pox was also a common event which I also suffered through — itching and all. Strangely enough, chicken pox reappeared in my life decades later (in 2006) as shingles for a few days.

It was expected that these “childhood diseases” would impact every family with children, that’s just the way it was. No one panicked — that’s just the way it was.

Almost

But there was almost a panic — social media hadn’t been invented yet — during the Polio virus epidemic in the 50s when people were suffering temporary or long lasting paralysis, being put in iron lungs to breath and some becoming crippled or even dying.  Polio spread during the hot days of summer and I know I felt unsafe just breathing especially while attending the State Fair one year. 

Fortunately, a vaccine became available in the late 1950s and our fears vanished and polio was eliminated in the U.S.

Epidemics have come and gone for centuries and I’d guess we’ll learn more about coronavirus in coming days, the farm meeting season will come and go and if lucky we’ll all emerge unscathed.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.