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Planting season presenting challenges to local farmers
Too wet and cold so far
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Last year wasn’t a good planting year for most local farmers and this year isn’t shaping up to be much better so far.

A late spring and unrelenting wet weather into June of 2013 meant quite a few farmers were forced to “mud in” their corn and soybean seeds. Some planting was late and some wasn’t done at all.

Despite the planting problems, most area farmers wound up with average yields of corn and soybeans in the fall harvest. That’s around 140 bushels of corn per acre and 30-some bushels of soybeans per acre, according to Crawford County FAS Executive Director John Baird.

Although the crop yields were average, high moisture in the corn at harvest forced some farmers to use large amounts of propane in corn driers to reduce moisture levels.

This year, most everyone involved in the spring planting can see similarities to last year’s start of the season.

Above average moisture in April was capped off by a solid week of rainy weather. It has made fieldwork and planting pretty much impossible to date. The situation is being complicated by cold soil temperatures, which must warm up about 10 degrees for seeds to germinate.

Farmers and others involved in the planting are quick to point out that there is still plenty of time to plant, but the ground will have to dry out and warm up.

Crawford County Ag Agent Vance Haugen noted that the optimum planting date for corn locally is May 10. That’s still a week-and-a-half away. He also explained that corn can be planted here with good results until June 10 or even June 15. The optimum date for planting soybeans locally is May 25, according to Haugen. However, they can be planted until July 1.

The trouble for most farmers is that the current weather pattern is just too similar to last year’s.

“To me it’s shaping up to be identical to last season,” Jody Riley said. The Mt. Zion dairy farmer admitted the current situation, including the “lost month of April,” was frustrating him.

Riley acknowledged that in the end the crops did work out all right last year and the high moisture corn didn’t matter to his operation since it can be stored and fed to the cattle that way.  However, the 8,000 bushels of corn that he sold as grain took a hit. When shipping and drying was figured into the price, it brought it down to only $3.33 per bushel.

The higher milk price brightens things quite a bit for the dairy farmer, who noted the price was “fantastic” and enabled him to do a lot of things. Riley will plant the same corn regardless of the planting date and will not switch to shorter day corn because his primary use will be feeding it to the cattle.

Commodity grain growers look at things a little differently. However, Daryl Aspenson, who plans to plant around 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans shares a lot of Riley’s concerns. He’s hoping this season is not a repeat of last season, although he fears it’s “starting to look that way.”

Aspenson, who lives in Mt. Sterling, said that with two planters going he believes they can plant the entire 2,000 acres in 10 solid days. Finding 10 solid days can be the problem. Last year, the ground would dry for three days and the Aspensons would start panting on the fourth day only to be rained out a day or two later.

In the end, Daryl made a decision to stop planting on June 3 with a big storm predicted for the next three or four days. The Aspensons made a decision at that point to not plant the final 460 acres in favor of taking crop insurance on them.

This year, Daryl has switched his strategy a bit and will plant about 600 to 700 acres of soybeans as well as the corn.

“It gives us a bit of a cushion,” he explained. Beans can be planted later and typically mature later.  They also mature differently, according to Aspenson. While corn matures from heat, soybeans sense shorter days and mature from the length of days.

Like others, Aspenson noted that a lack of soil moisture was being discussed at the end of March and the beginning of April. Those concerns were addressed by an above average rainfall in April.

“We have adequate moisture now,” Aspenson said. “I’d like it to quit, but I don't want to be unthankful for it.”

The row crop grower acknowledged soil temperatures were still low, but pointed out that was no longer a factor at this point in the season.

“Once you get into May, you don’t have to pay attention to the soil temperature anymore,” Aspenson said. “If it’s April 20, we’d wonder about the effects of having the seed sit in the ground for awhile, but at this stage of the game soil temperature isn’t important.

Like almost every other farmer in the county, Aspenson has not planted any corn yet. “Not a kernel,” is the way he put it.

Vegetable grower Noah Engel, a co-owner of Driftless Organics in rural Soldiers Grove, faces different problems than the corn growers, but is frustrated by the same weather patterns.

Engel said he sees parallels to the situation last year in the current weather.

“It’s a little annoying,” Engel said of the cold wet spring. “It seems like you get something every year. You just learn to roll with it.”

While Driftless Organics was keeping busy with shop work earlier this week, they were able to take advantage of two windows earlier to do some planting. Last Saturday the local vegetable growers planted cabbage, broccoli cauliflower, kohlrabi and scallions. Earlier, they were also able to seed parsnips.

After struggling with weather early last season, Driftless Organics wound up having a pretty good year, according to Engel.

Like the corn growers, Driftless Organics now has enough equipment and help to do a lot of planting in a hurry. In fact when it’s dry, they will have six tractors working on planting.

Feed store owners Chris Olson and Owen DuCharme tended to agree with the others’ assessment of the season so far.

Echoing Aspenson, Olson Feeds’ Chris Olson said “give us two weeks.” Like the others, he credited the modern equipment with allowing growers “to plant so much so fast.”

Olson said there was plenty of time to plant before anyone would start changing to shorter day corn. He noted most local farmers are already planting 100-103-day corn. He believes it would be May 20 to May 25 before growers would look to 95-day corn.

Olson and Seneca Feeds’ Owen DuCharme both pointed out the current soil temperature in the 40s would have to warm to the 50s before the corn could germinate anyway.

DuCharme said warm rains could increase soil temperatures quickly, but the current colder rains were not helping at all.

So April has come and gone with virtually no planting. That means the weather in May will be very important to the success of the crops in Crawford County.