Carolyn Olson watched the thunderheads darken the skies over her Buffalo Ridge wheat field last Wednesday, moments before the bombardment of her crop.
"It's really coming down," said Olson.
By the interview's end, Olson held up her phone for the reporter to hear the hail pelting the back porch of her southwestern Minnesota home.
"We're approaching quarter-size hail from nickel-sized," said Olson. "Unfortunately, our change is getting bigger."
She watched as hail pummeled the wheat field, which they had only recently laid in black soil. As of the second week in May, Olson was one of the lucky ones in Minnesota.
She and her husband planted their crop of hard red spring wheat, but most of the growers in the state haven't yet.
As of Monday only 5% of the state's crop has been planted. Last year, 99% of the wheat was in the ground.
Crop reports on wheat are closely watched this year as food security experts fear a shortage over the next 12 months with the war in Ukraine sidelining significant supply of the grain.
In the big acreages of Minnesota's Red River Valley near the Canadian border, farmers have an expression for what they have — or haven't — been doing this spring.
"Frankly, I haven't turned a wheel yet," Scott Swenson, who farms near Elbow Lake and serves on the board for the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, said late last week. "There's been some wheat planted up near Fergus Falls, like on a hilltop. But we've been really wet."
Wheat feels as Minnesotan as former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek or red-eyed loons. Pioneer farmers from Zumbrota to Willmar harvested wheat from prairie fields. It's the crop at the heart of Gold Medal flour shipped out of Mississippi River ports and stashed in kitchen pantries across America as Pillsbury biscuits.
Wheat no longer reigns over Minnesota's fields as in the 19th century, but the state still cracks the top 10 of producers, growing hard red spring wheat, which ends up in bagels and pizza crusts and artisan rolls but is largely shipped overseas.
According to an analysis by the University of Illinois, Minnesota was the only major producing state from 2014 to 2020 to see an increase — not a decrease — in total wheat acres, as higher-priced corn and soybeans gobbled up fields in states to the west and south.
But some Minnesota wheat farmers are beginning to worry this year's soggy delay may imperil their crop.
Unlike corn or soybeans, which drink up the warm summer days in the Upper Midwest, hard red spring wheat prefers the milder, cool days of late spring common north of U.S. 212. As the dog days of summer approach, the plant births tawny shocks. Then, just before the kids go back to school, the combines start.
That's when things go to plan, as everyone hoped would happen this year.
"If at any time, we really needed a good crop, it was this year with what's happening overseas," said Jonathan Kleinjan, an extension agronomist at South Dakota State University.
North Dakota, the nation's king of wheat, has planted 8% of its crop. In South Dakota, farmers have planted 60% of the wheat crop. Last year by this week, South Dakota had 90% of its crop in the ground. Agronomists are skeptical about the likelihood of catching up.
"And I question how many of those acres are going to get planted," Kleinjan said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine — Europe's bread-basket — has had thunderous echoes through international agricultural markets. Annually, the two countries combine for nearly 30% of the global wheat trade.
Off-lining these markets, with bombed-out fields in Ukraine and blockaded Black Sea ports, as well as Western nations cutting business ties with Russian exporters, has led to surging wheat prices, worrying import-dependent countries such as Egypt and Yemen. A potential shortage also has raised fears among leaders in the West.
The White House this month floated a $500 million plan to incentivize the nation's small grain farmers to boost wheat production through double-cropping. Under the plan, farmers would plant winter wheat in the fall and harvest next spring, only to replant soybeans.
Congress declined, however, leaving the policy out of a roughly $40 billion Ukraine aid package, which was passed by the House but is stalled in the Senate. Industry officials say the aid wouldn't have affected farmers in Minnesota, where the shorter growing season limits wheat growers to a single crop each year.
"We haven't even started planting," Charlie Vogel, chief executive office for the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers in Red Lake Falls, said late last week. Vogel would prefer the government push back planting deadlines for federal crop insurance, which begins depreciating this month.
"Extending those dates would have a huge impact for potential wheat acres," he said.
Behind her desk in the northwestern city of Ada, ag insurance saleswoman Ginger Harrissaid her phone has been ringing more frequently with farmers asking about the terms of their protection.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture rules, crop insurance loses 1% per day after a designated deadline. That's as late as June 5 in the most northern counties and as early as May 15 farther south.
"They're starting to have questions on, 'What if I can't get in, how will the [claim] pay me? How will it cover my contracts?'" Harris said. "They're kind of always optimistic, too, 'Well if the sun comes out and 80 degree weather comes, it'll clear up in a week, and we'll get it all planted, I only need 14 days.'"
On her Buffalo Ridge farm between Marshall and Granite Falls, Carolyn Olson notes she grew up a city girl. Her first day on the Lyon County farm came after returning from a honeymoon to Glacier National Park with her husband, Jonathan.
"We got married in a drought year," said Olson. "So I learned early in my farming career just how important weather is."
Now — a self-proclaimed "weather nerd" — Olson watched through a window last week as thunderstorms and hailstorms crawled up the ridge. Like many Minnesota farmers, she has whiplash. Last summer, it was drought across much of the state. This April marked the wettest in northwestern Minnesota since 1895.
Over the previous weekend, she had rejoiced after finding a window to plant their crop. But it didn't take long for the rain to fall again.
"About roughly four hours later," she said.
The cruelest part? This year's crop could fetch a good price — approaching $13 a bushel, nearly double the price a year-ago.
"This is a really nice price for wheat right off the combine," said Swenson, the Elbow Lake farmer. "That's if we can get it."
One of the farmers fortunate enough to get in a crop is Mike Peterson, who grows row crops far south and east of Minnesota's wheat region. His farm is so close to Carleton College in Northfield that he or his son sometimes spots curious interlopers in their fields.
"Some of these students come from the East Coast, and they've never seen a cornfield, I guess," Peterson said last week.
Nearly 150 miles to the west, Olson kept watching the sky.
"Nobody wants to curse it because last year we were in D-3 drought," said Olson. "We always like to complain about the weather, but it doesn't change anything."
Out her window, the rain stopped. She wanted to go look but knew more rain was on its way.