Spring planting off to a slow start

TCR/SCOTT BESTUL Alan Mote plants soybeans on his farm in Fremont Township Tuesday. Wet conditions and a late spring have delayed eld work and planting for many area farmers.
Chad Smith

Southeast Minnesota farmers are used to going like gangbusters by late April. But in a year full of weather that has challenged everything from snowplows to school buses, it should come as no surprise that spring planting is behind schedule.

While there has been some fieldwork done, farmers are used to making a lot more progress by now. The good news is it doesn’t take long to get the crop in the ground once the opportunity presents itself.

“If you’d have called me a week or two prior to this one, it would have been a different story,” said Houston and Fillmore County Extension Educator Michael Cruse. “At that point, we weren’t too concerned about things and we had seen some people in their fields planting oats. There was a lot of anhydrous ammonia going in too. At that point, we thought we were getting things going.

“Then, it snowed,” he added. “Then it decided to rain. After that, it got colder. Then it decided to rain some more. That’s pushed my nervous level up a little bit.”

Cruse said the biggest thing that makes him nervous about planting success is a specific date: May 15. Up to that point, the hit that farmers take on their top-end production level isn’t large. After May 15, that percentage of top-end yield results starts to drop. He said it gets even worse after May 25.

While there has been a little planting progress, Cruse said it depends on where each field is located. “One of the unique things about our area is the rolling topography,” he said. “If people have fields on hilltops, a little sun and wind mean they can likely get worked on. I fully think that people are working in those areas successfully this spring.

“We do still have a lot of wet areas in other fields,” he added. “Yes, the longer we have to wait to get corn in the ground, the more we’ll take off the upper-level yield results. However, if producers go out and ‘mud’ their corn into the ground, the gains you get by getting the crop in the ground earlier will more than likely be lost because of all the resulting compaction in the field.”

Cruse said he’s seen a couple of corn fields in the ground already but most of the larger farmers are still likely trying to get their anhydrous down. Some of the smaller farmers have that fewer acres have already gotten a jump-start on corn planting. He said even putting anhydrous on wet fields can cause compaction challenges.

“It’s not easy,” Cruse said. “We’ve got a really short window to get the crop in. After that, are we going to have time to put our pre-emergence herbicides down? The weather forecast is forcing people to wonder when they’re going to get anhydrous down, get tillage done, plant the crops, and get pre-emergence herbicide down before the next rainfall?”

Farmers are typically very good at planning ahead. Cruse is hopeful that southeast Minnesota farmers already have a plan in place in case they can’t get into the fields when they need to. When that May 15 deadline rolls around, it may be time to change things up a bit.

“For example, I’m hoping farmers can say to themselves that they’ll go to a shorter-season hybrid by a certain date,” Cruse said. “I’m hoping that they’ll have a plan in place to switch from corn to soybeans if they can’t get into the field by a certain date. I’m not necessarily thinking they need to switch hybrids by May 15. But if you get to May 25, it might be time to switch to a 95-day variety to give us some buffer on the backside in case of an early fall.”

One thing that seems to be going in the right direction is alfalfa. Cruse said it looks like alfalfa fields are starting to green up quite a bit and now is a good time for farmers to get out and walk through their fields.

“Now is the perfect time to get out and see if we have any winterkill in our fields,” he said. “Producers can also figure out where they might need to go back in and re-seed a particular area or even till up a particular field. You’ve got options at this point when fields are greening up and dead spots are easier to find.”