This is the kind of spring that builds character.
“We received 4.6 inches of rain in March,” said Illinois farmer John Werries. “The morning of April 1, it was 28 degrees. Nothing happening in the field here. This will teach a guy patience.”
DTN routinely surveys a trusted group of farmers and ranchers on crop condition, fieldwork and other agricultural issues of the day. This month, most farmers reported that floods, persistent rainfall and chilly soils have kept them far from the field, week after week. Anxiety is beginning to sneak in for some, as the planting window narrows, with so much field prep yet to do.
Growers also confirmed the planting trend projected by USDA in last week’s Prospective Plantings report, with the majority of respondents expecting to trim soybean acreage in favor of corn — if Mother Nature ever lets them in the field.
FLOODING AND ITS AFTERMATH
No one is facing grimmer planting conditions than those farmers who experienced historic flooding conditions along the Missouri River and its tributaries in March.
Kenny Reinke and Luke Lauritsen, who both farm in the eastern half of Nebraska, reported that many roads and fields are only beginning to emerge from floodwaters. The damage there will play out for the rest of the season, if not longer.
“Logistics are a problem,” explained Lauritsen. “Local retailers are faced with 20- to 40-mile detours that used to be a 10-mile drive.”
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“Zero fieldwork has been started,” added Reinke, who is facing crusted piles of corn stalks in some fields and continued ponding. “It’s going to be a serious push to get things fit enough to plant by late April.” Prevented planting could be the only option for some growers with low ground in his region, Reinke added.
Swollen rivers are causing problems farther east as well. Josh Miller farms in southern Illinois and is dealing with dual flooding from both the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers. He has lost 60 acres of wheat already, and hundreds more acres remain under water. “The rivers have consumed a total of around 500 of our acres, many of which are going into corn,” Miller said. “Hopefully it will recede fairly quickly and we can plant corn. I think we’re drawing the line on corn planting early-to-mid-May this year.”
The extreme moisture last year and this spring have pushed central Ohio farmer Keith Peters to bulk up his crop protection plan. “I increased my crop insurance with one of the new add-on policies,” he said. “This weather pattern has me as concerned as anything we are dealing with right now.”
FIELDWORK STALLED BUT WHEAT THRIVING
Even where flooding isn’t underway, fieldwork remains slow and stalled in much of the Midwest and South. A lot of fertilizer and herbicide remains unapplied, as wet fields can’t support equipment yet.
Reports of planting among the farmer respondents were scant. Only northeastern Arkansas grower Charles Williams had started planting corn on April 1, after a blessed break in the damp weather. “We’ve had nine to 10 solid days in the field and have reclaimed a lot of ‘lost ground’ from a wet fall and spring,” he reported. If all goes well, cotton planting will start around April 25 on his operation.
In northeastern Oklahoma, the ideal corn planting window for Zack Rendel’s operation is March 20 to April 10 and closing fast. “I have heard chatter that some corn farmers north and west of here are already checking in with seedsmen to see if swapping corn to sorghum or even soybeans would be possible if we miss our corn window,” he said.
Growers in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota and Iowa also reported little fieldwork progress due to persistent rainfall. As farmer Kyle Samp of north-central Missouri put it, “Everything is ready except the ground.”
In southeastern Ontario, where Dan Petker recently finished frost-seeding red clover into his winter wheat stands, the March standstill has been taken in stride. “Zero fieldwork yet, as the ground is still too water logged from snowmelt, early rains and frost in the ground, and there is still significant amounts of snow in the Ottawa Valley,” Petker noted. “But all of this is pretty normal for Ontario, with equipment just starting to get pulled from storage for spring maintenance.”
Meanwhile, the winter wheat crop, though smaller than usual, is thriving for growers in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. “Winter wheat was slow growing until mid-March, but is jumping now thanks to some warm days and good moisture,” said Kenneth Rose, who farms in the Oklahoma Panhandle. “Its prospects are the best in several years.”
CORN DOMINATES THE CROPPING MIX
In USDA’s March 29 Prospective Plantings report, field surveys suggested corn was going to regain some lost acreage and surge to 92.8 million acres, while soybeans would slip down to 84.6 million acres.
The farmer respondents appeared to confirm this trend, with most reporting that their corn acres were up substantially from previous years.
Raymond Simpkins of southeastern Michigan is planning to plant 40% more corn and 20% fewer soybeans this year. Jeff Littrell, who farms with his son in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, expects corn acreage to rise 25% on their operation. Growers in Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska were also expecting modest corn increases.
Delayed wheat planting or failed wheat stands have led to some spring crop shifts as well. In Oklahoma, Rendel only managed to seed 50 acres of his planned 1,200 acres of winter wheat last fall. “We had to make the choice — drill wheat or harvest beans,” he explained. Those acres went fallow this winter and will go to full-season soybeans this spring.
Likewise, Arkansas’s Williams was able to plant less than half of his expected wheat acreage last fall, and he’s moving some of it into corn, as well as some full-season beans.
Spring crop changes could still come for some growers. “I am still partially undecided on acre mix,” said Justin Honebrink, of central Minnesota. “My motto always has been to just stick to the plan and rotations, but between the price of hay, a better handle on yield maps and current prices, I am reworking the plan on a weekly basis.”
He’s also savoring having the time to do so.
“The feeling of spring is close, and I am cherishing the down moments now, knowing that all is about to change and get busy,” Honebrink said.
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee