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Snowbound . . . Even as the thermometer reached over 50 degrees on April 26th,
snowdrifts made this combine, drag and sprayer inaccessible at a farmstead
east of Kenmare. Now that the thaw has taken hold, farmers face the challenge
of access to their fields and getting crops seeded in a shorter time frame.
By Caroline Downs
The below-average temperatures and above-average snow cover kept everyone talking about the weather through April.
Now, after the weekend’s extreme thaw, farmers have to deal with the impact of a late spring.
“Everybody’s chomping at the bit to get into the field,” Carl Zeltinger, Renville Elevator Company manager, said Friday as temperatures soared into the 50s for the first time this year.
Zeltinger estimated the farmers east and north of Kenmare would be about 30 days behind their usual spring schedule. “Usually around the 20th of April they’re out in the field to start scratching around,” he said, “but I think if we can get in the field by the middle of May, we can get this crop planted.”
According to Zeltinger, producers there like to have soybeans seeded by May 15th and corn a few days later. “If they can get seed in the ground by May 20th, I think they’ll still plant their corn,” he said.
Because of the lingering snow, crop plans for 2013 may change. “There are still some undecided acres,” said Zeltinger. “People are talking about not planting the corn they did have ordered. There are not a lot of acres in corn here yet, but there’s more every year.”
Renville Elevator Co. is selling more spring wheat and durum instead, with those crops also taking up some of the acres devoted to winter wheat in 2012. Zeltinger said less winter wheat was planted last fall because of extremely dry conditions from July through October, when just over two inches of rain were finally recorded in the region. “The snow is helping [the soil condition],” he said.
He predicted barley acres would be significant, and that canola would be replacing some sunflower acres. “I think canola is going to be close to 30 percent of the crop planted this year,” he said.
Farmers may gain some benefit from the new seed treating plant that should be operating later this week or early next week at Renville Elevator Co. “The coating protects that seed kernel,” Zeltinger said. “Farmers can put that seed in the cool ground. We can put the treated seed right into their trucks.”
Farms east and north
look to middle of May
Ron Jensen, who farms northeast of Kenmare, took an ambivalent view toward the late spring. “It’s the trouble we always run into,” he said, then laughed. “This is buying me a little more couch time. Last year, I seeded a quarter of barley on the 23rd of April, but I’m not worried yet.”
Jensen sounded patient as he waits for weather and soil conditions to improve. “Four or five years ago, I started on the 10th of May,” he said. “I think the average date for guys around here is May 8th, so we’ll still be in that window of opportunity on May 15th, give or take a few days. It’s nice to have that cushion of 30 days for planting, but some years we don’t get it.”
He intends to plant spring wheat, durum, flax and canola like usual this year, and he wasn’t concerned about any loss in yield. “It’s amazing how much yields have gone up in the last 10 years,” he said, citing new types of blended fertilizers and improved herbicide programs as two reasons for the increases, along with an expanded variety of crops in the rotation and better seed varieties.
“Looking back, it seems like some of the best crops I’ve had were seeded between May 15th and May 25th,” he said. “I would have liked to have seen it melt before this, but everything evens itself out.”
Brian Knutson, who farms 17 miles north of Tolley, was hoping for a May 15th starting date at the earliest. “We’ve got more snow [than at Tolley],” he said. “We’ve got to be able to see the field. The weather has to change for us to be able to get in the field by May 15th.”
Knutson grows canola, peas, and certified barley, durum and flax for seed. Like Jensen, he wasn’t making any changes in his crop plans.
He also wasn’t concerned about a loss of acres because of the heavy late snow cover. “There will be some potholes, but it’s not going to be all that much,” he said. “We were so dry last fall.”
More spring wheat, soybeans
in Berthold and Carpio
Dan DeRouchey, general manager at Berthold Farmers Elevator, was hearing about two sets of field conditions from farmers in his area. “Fields south and west of Berthold are going to be about a week earlier than fields north of Carpio,” he said, “but everyone is concerned about getting in the fields about two weeks later.”
At this point, DeRouchey said producers south of Berthold should start seeding around May 8th, with those north of Carpio getting to work about May 15th.
Like farmers east of Kenmare, several producers in the Berthold and Carpio vicinities were passing on corn for 2013 and replacing winter wheat acres with spring wheat and some barley.
“The two major things I see are more spring wheat and more soybeans,” said DeRouchey. “Soybean acres will be up this year, I feel.”
Beginning planting operations in May didn’t bother DeRouchey, as long as nothing else comes along to slow down farmers. “One more delay [because of a weather event] is going to be critical,” he said.
Seeders under snow
By April 25, 2012, Lars Christensen was out seeding his fields around the Coulee area, about 10 miles south of Kenmare.
However, snow drifts still covered his air seeders and other equipment last week. “It’ll be a week and a half at least, up to two weeks before I can get started,” he said, “but [warm temperatures] Saturday helped things a lot.”
He noted much of the snow cover in his area vanished in a short period during the weekend, except for accumulations in tree rows and on north-facing slopes.
Christensen toured his fields by four-wheeler on Sunday and revised his seeding plans. “Some of my early season crops are getting moved to different fields,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to seed the canola I originally planned on, but I might have more flax.”
He will also grow barley, spring wheat, durum and soybeans this year. “If we could start by May 12th or so and go straight through the 5th of June, that would be good,” he said. “I’m not that worried unless we get a week of rain in there.”
Need a perfect
Like Christensen and DeRouchey, spring rains were on the mind of Joe Kremer, agronomist for SunPrairie Grain in Bowbells.
“From what I’ve seen at this point, we have to have a perfect planting season to get the crop in,” he said. “If we get rain between the 10th of May and the 6th of June, we’re not going to get it in.”
Farmers in eastern Burke County are looking at a start date between May 10th and May 15th, according to Kremer. He said neither corn nor soybeans were major crops in the county yet, but he estimated producers would give up peas this year because of the delayed spring. “Peas don’t handle the late season well,” he said.
He expected to see more spring wheat and canola seeded, especially with the reduction in winter wheat for 2013.
west of Kenmare
The drainage patterns and sandier soils of the fields west of Kenmare contribute to the possibility of earlier spring’s work for producers there, according to Lenny Rodin.
Rodin farms seven miles west of town and he was planning to start seeding later this week until the forecast for Monday through Wednesday called for cooler temperatures and rain or snow showers.
“The weather system we could have this week will push it back to next week,” he said. “If we would have had a nice week this week, [the seeding schedule] would have been normal, but a lot can get planted in a quick hurry.”
Rodin intends to seed his usual mix of canola, barley, spring wheat and durum. “And maybe some flax,” he said. “No sunflowers this year, though.”
demand for anhydrous
Producers and elevator operators alike share a concern about fertilizing with anhydrous ammonia this spring.
Zeltinger said the Renville elevator recently relocated its anhydrous facility west of the fertilizer plant to make room for three new 200,000-bushel storage bins under construction, and the anhydrous plant itself has been updated with meters in order to accommodate larger tanks.
However, the availability of anhydrous ammonia could become an issue. “It has to be trucked in now,” said Zeltinger, “and it looks like it might be difficult to get. We can always top-dress the crops with urea or spread urea ahead of them seeding. We don’t want to let fertilizer prevent farmers from getting that seed in the ground.”
The late start to spring has caused Jensen to rethink his plans for fertilizer. “I was hoping to put anhydrous on,” he said, “but the whole state will be cutting loose at the same time, so that might not happen.”
Like Zeltinger, Kremer anticipates a challenge to supply anhydrous ammonia. “North of Bowbells, we’ve tripled the size of our anhydrous facility,” he said, “and we have our own transport trucks from our suppliers, but congestion in the demand for that will be the biggest issue.”
He noted that urea and phosphate were also available, and he suggested farmers provide plenty of notice about their fertilizer needs. “Everything is going to be crunched together,” he said. “We’re looking at 20 days [for planting], so that’s going to be a test to the manpower available.”
Rodin uses urea on his fields, but he mentioned other area farmers were talking about using anhydrous. He agreed the demands for the product could occur all at once.
“Everybody will be going 100 miles per hour when they start. It’s going to be fast and furious,” he said, then laughed. “There’s not going to be a lot of time to stop and eat lunch!”