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Redline Agri Service owner Matt Nelson, Lakota, N.D., stresses the importance of "recharge days" -- downtime from both the physical and mental demands of precision agriculture. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

Spraying season arrives

Like many other Upper Midwest farmers, Matt Nelson got off to a slow start planting this spring because of uncooperative weather. But he got his crops into the ground, albeit later than ideal.

Now, "I'm a little surprised by how they look. They're more advanced than I would've thought" given late planting, Nelson says.

Overall, his crops — spring wheat, barley, corn, canola and black beans — look good, though more rain will be needed.

The wheat stands look excellent. But stretches of hot weather — coming at key points in the wheat's development — may cause yields to be lower than the stands seem to indicate.

Nelson farms near Lakota, N.D., a town of about 650 in north-central North Dakota. Agweek is following Nelson through the 2018 crop season. Look for more stories about his farming operation during harvest; his small grains harvest will start in August.

In early July he's focusing on spraying, applying fungicide to the wheat and herbicide to the dry beans. Some of the spraying is for his own fields, but much is work for other farmers by the aerial application company with which he's involved.

Nelson loved growing up on the family farm. But LeRoy, his father, still an active farmer, encouraged Matt to pursue a career off the farm, at least for a while.

Matt earned a degree in aeronautics from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, about 60 miles to the east of Lakota. After college, he spent 16 years as a pilot in Iowa and Nebraska. He returned to Lakota in 2011 with his wife, Stephanie, now a K-12 art teacher in Lakota, and their two children, to begin farming himself.

The region's long wet cycle that began in 1993 swelled sloughs, common in the Lakota area, in many of Nelson's fields. But water levels have dropped, allowing Nelson to plant some farmland that until recently had been too wet to plant for many years.

"It's good to get some of that back," he says.

Even so, the once-higher water levels increased salinity on Nelson's farm. He's working with cover crops to address the problem, and is optimistic they'll help, though not provide a total solution.

Nelson is optimistic that timely rains during the rest of the growing season can produce good yields, which he says will be needed to help offset weak crop prices.

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