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North Dakota braces for the worst

 

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For farmer Brian Thomas, getting to town for errands is no simple matter these days as floodwaters cover fields and sections of country roads in the rural areas near Fargo, N.D. He wades through shallow rapids cascading across his driveway, then drives a mudspattered pickup on a narrow dirt road until so much water blocks his path that he must hop into a motorboat and puttputt over a cornfield resembling a sprawling lake. Finally, about four miles from home, he gets into his waiting car and drives to the nearest town. "It's kind of a hassle," Thomas, 52, said Thursday as he jerked the rope to restart the boat motor. As the cities of Moorhead, Minn., and next-door Fargo nervously wait for the Red River's expected crest on Sunday at 20 feet above the flood stage, some of the region's farmland is already under water after smaller rivers, swollen with melting snow, overflowed. Even fields that aren't buried in water are so saturated that they look like vast expanses of squishy black mud. At this point it's mostly an inconvenience, growers say. Spring planting is a month or more away for crops such as corn, soybeans and sugar beets. If the rain holds off and unusually warm temperatures don't melt the remaining snowpack too rapidly over the next few weeks, the waters could recede, enabling a decent or even good growing season. But a worst-case scenario — heavy spring rains and prolonged flooding well into April — could spell trouble for this year's crops, while also causing problems for livestock producers during the crucial calving season. "It's definitely not going to help us any to have this flood, but I can't say definitely that it's going to hurt us either, because it depends on the weather from here on out," said Andrew Swenson, an extension farm management specialist at North Dakota State University. The region's fertile soils yield an abundance of grain and beets. About 500,000 acres in Cass County — which includes Fargo — are planted in soybeans, more than in any other county in the nation. Farmers prefer to get their corn and sugar beets in the ground by late April but can hold off until early May, when soybeans usually are planted, Swenson said.

 
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