Farmers: Planting is ‘taking forever’Published 3:15pm Sunday, May 19, 2013
A whirl of dust followed Brian Hanson’s John Deere tractor and planter across a field Thursday afternoon north of Grand Meadow.
That sight was the same off in the distance and in all sorts of directions as farmers were out in full force, sharing the roads with traffic, scrambling to plant as much corn as they could in a late start to the 2013 growing season.
The window of opportunity to storm the fields finally opened last week for Hanson, along with thousands of other southeastern Minnesota farmers. But the puffs of dust and dry heat were no truthful indicator of the real conditions. It was still quite wet out there, and that was just Thursday. The weather gods shut the window, and conditions are now saturated again.
“It seems like it’s taking forever,” Hanson said, who put his first corn seeds in the ground last Monday, more than a month later than he did in 2012.
“We started planting on the 13th … of May,” Hanson hesitated, and chuckled. “It should have been April.”
Of course, farmers are used to extremes, but this year is getting late, even much later than 2011, when many area farmers began planting in late April and early May.
“For a starting date, I think it’s got to be one of our latest,” Hanson said, standing in cutoff sleeves in 80-degree heat.
While farmers typically like to start planting before May 10, they’ll have to wait even longer this year. Had there been no rain over the weekend, Hanson may have been able to finish planting sometime next week, he speculated. With downpours since Thursday, he said it could be toward the end of May. If June hits, it will be time for a new gameplan.
“We’ll probably plant corn up to the 1st of June,” Hanson said. “But after that, a guy would probably reconsider his options.”
As June approaches, farmers may consider planting different corn hybrids that mature more quickly, or switch some fields over to soybeans. Regardless, after more delays, yield potential is likely to take a hit, no matter what switch farmers make.
“We’re reducing soybean yields already, too,” said Mike Merten of southwest Austin. “Just switching to soybeans and saying, ‘I have full potential,’ that’s not the case, either.”
Merten was one of few farmers who planted corn before a massive snowstorm buried his field under a foot of snow. Anxious to see the effects on the kernels, Merten dug through the snow and into the dirt and transplanted some seeds into a greenhouse. Two weeks later, Merten’s field is sprouting better than expected.
“Actually, it looks really good,” Merten said on Friday.
Merten and farmers in his area may be slightly ahead of others with about 30 percent of their corn planted. Still, they already had more than 2 inches of rain by Friday afternoon. Several flat fields north of Austin still had standing water in them as of Thursday, and were only getting worse.
“We’re dealing with just a different scenario this year,” Merten said, who added the late planting may now have more of an effect on yields than last year’s drought stress. Despite a lack of rain last year, many farmers were surprised with their yields and had some of their best corn crops ever. But even advanced corn genetics may not make up for lost time this year.
“You’ve got to accumulate so many heat units in a season, and when you shorten the season, you’re reducing yield,” Merten said.
For now, Merten, Hanson and area farmers may have to stand under their umbrellas — with only one free hand to pray that the rain eventually stops.