View From the Cab

Farmers Juggle Hurry-Up-And-Wait Crop Planting Schedule

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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The planter has been parked on Quint Pottinger's farm in central Kentucky more than he'd like this week. But a relay cropping experiment (see inset photo) already has soybeans up and looking good. (Photos courtesy of Affinity Farms)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Quint Pottinger got an early start on spring planting this year, but the last few weeks have been a waiting game.

"We get a few hours from pulling in the field and it rains us out again," said Pottinger, who farms in central Kentucky near New Haven. "I'll be honest--between the weather and the commodity markets, this spring has already been stressful. These delays also compress everything that comes next on our operations calendar, such as spraying and sidedressing."

Dan Lakey doesn't exactly like the hurry-up-and-wait dance either, but it happens nearly every year in southeastern Idaho. Spring kicked off in April for him this year, which is a tad early from typical. But the farmer, who lives in Soda Springs, and farms at high elevations, ran into a rainy, snowy slog in May that has put him back to about average progress.

Lakey and Pottinger are reporting in as part of DTN's View From the Cab feature. The series follows what's happening in the field and covers rural topics through the growing season.

This week the farmers talk about crop progress, new farming practices being tried and how weather is cooperating or complicating life.

DTN ag meteorologist John Baranick said the good news is both farming regions are starting off the year with good soil moisture. "The weather pattern in both areas has definitely been active and will likely stay that way for the next week," noted Baranick.

"It doesn't mean both locations get hit with anything substantial, but they are in line for at least some chances for more rain. It looks like a lot of up-and-down temperatures as systems move through.

"For Soda Springs, the mountains can play tricks too, resulting in sometimes significantly warmer or colder conditions than the forecast," he said.

In New Haven, this active pattern is also more likely to create chances for more rain and shorter planting windows. Baranick added.

"We'll be on the lookout for La Nina to flip the pattern and get hotter and drier conditions into the area this summer. That's a big unknown and something that could turn this season into a sort of Jekyll and Hyde type of weather pattern, maybe like what we saw last year. And that doesn't go for just central Kentucky, that goes for the entire Corn Belt," he added.

That's farming, though. "Kentucky. No season like the last. No way to predict the next," Pottinger wrote in social media posts this week. Read on to learn more about what's happening on their respective farms and some of the tactics they use to diffuse the worry.


If Dan Lakey wants some quiet time, all he must do is nose the tractor in the direction of what he calls the "North Farm" where he farms several thousand acres and cell service is almost non-existent.

"There's one place in a field where I can pop up on a ridge and get a text message out or maybe a 30-second call. But mostly it means we have to be very good at planning before we leave each day," Lakey said.

"We never want a breakdown, but if we have one there, it can mean a 30-mile drive to get a part," he said.

This extra planning and communicating among the farming team isn't all bad because there are a lot of moving parts to this operation. Life was simpler when the farm grew mostly wheat. But these days, Lakey Farms depends on a diverse mix of a dozen crops spread over 75 fields branching out some 50 miles from the main farm headquarters.

"We start out each year with a plan of what we want to grow on each field, but it is constantly changing as we discover new opportunities with specialty contracts or realize the ground needs something different for the rotation than what we had planned," he said.

All this makes for interesting discussions with the crop insurance salesman. And then, there's a lot of recordkeeping involved, such as making sure residual herbicides line up right with subsequent crops. Lakey depends on John Deere Operations Center to keep things straight, but he still likes to keep written notes.

"Yeah, I'm a little bit old-school, but it helps plant things in my mind when I write it down," he said.

Lakey pulled into his first field to begin seeding on April 15 this year. That's about two weeks earlier than he usually starts. But blizzards showed back up in early May and slowed progress. He finished planting spring wheat this week and was getting ready to plant some triticale and durum, to be followed by barley.

"We're about on average for getting seed in the ground. It's been really cold and we're fighting muddy conditions. Our goal is to be done by the end of May, but that rarely happens. We always linger a week or two into June getting finished up," he said.

The farm runs three drills, John Deere 730, a cultivation type seeder that has been modified to run as a direct seeder; a John Deere 1890 no-till drill, and a K-Hart double-disc no-till drill that Lakey says will seed into almost anything.

"I'm still on a quest to make every drill better and figure out a way to plant acres more efficiently," he said.

Lakey's grandfather was a 24/7 farmer. His father, he said, was easier going during stressful situations and believed in a life balance. "We knew if he got worked up about something, it meant something was really wrong," he said. "I hope that as I get older, I'm more like my dad.

"It seems like whether we are early or late with the crop, it always works out. It's kind of a trial of faith that if you do your part and try your hardest, things will line up," he said, noting he did stay in the field until 2 a.m. one night this week.

"There are times when we get worried if we see a storm coming in and know that we need to pick up the pace," he said. "Or in the case of this week, I just wanted to finish the field and start the next day off with it done."

He was also doing a little makeup work for taking a family outing last week to watch the American Motorcycle Association Supercross Championships in Salt Lake, Utah. Lakey, who grew up riding and racing motorcycles, is now watching his children become involved in the sport. For a hot minute, he wondered whether he should stay home in case fields firmed up.

"The ground wasn't fit to be planted when we left, and I just tried to shut off all the thoughts about the farm while I was gone," he said. "When I got back on Monday, things were still a little wet.

"I left a corporate job and came back to the farm because we wanted to prioritize our family life," Lakey added. He gives his wife, Marie, a lot of credit for carrying the burden when farming must come first.

"Every farmer makes their own choices about what balance is right for them," he said. "It's not always easy to make those decisions and we can sure bring stress on ourselves when we start second guessing."


Quint Pottinger also got a good head start on planting in April, but things slowed down with May rains.

"It's like we're always just almost there," he said. "If we knew it was going to rain for eight weeks consistently, I'd probably roll the dice. But I also know if those wet plantings ever dry out for a two-week period and it turns hot, we'd pay the price on yield," he said.

The adage of "plant the weather and not the calendar" has a deadline for Pottinger. He has about 800 acres of corn and 500 acres of soybeans left to plant this spring. He was 30% planted on May 15, which is typically the date he likes to have things wrapped up. He was hoping to further along the planted percentage considerably this weekend or early next week.

The crops that are planted already have emerged and look great, minus a few wet holes in the field, he said.

Beyond possible yield hits, there's a logistical domino effect of later planting in this area. Winter wheat harvest will now likely fall in the middle of the timing for sidedressing corn with nitrogen and when postemergence herbicides need applied on soybeans. The need to be timely with those operations means wheat harvest could get delayed, which pushes the planting of double-crop soybeans further out on the calendar. Delaying double-crop soybeans can lead to yield sacrifices, especially if rains don't materialize in the summer.

Pottinger is trying relay cropping this year on 30 acres. On March 30, he direct seeded soybeans into standing rye and a few acres of wheat that will be harvested for grain (see photo). Some farmers achieve the practice by splitting the row or leaving a skip row, but Pottinger doesn't have reliable RTK guidance in his area to keep the planter lined up. Instead, he planted the soybeans on a 15-to-20-degree angle to the already growing winter cereal crop.

The only intercropping adjustment he made to the planter was to lift the row cleaners. "It takes some mental adjustments to run over a crop like that, but it didn't seem to hurt it," he said. The cereal crop was growing so aggressively this year that he planted the soybeans a little earlier than he originally intended.

Pottinger said the practice should help conserve moisture and it gets the soybeans planted much earlier than waiting to double-crop. He'll be watching to see how weed control pans out. The farm is all non-GMO, so he won't be able to go back in with glyphosate to address grass issues. Other herbicide options are more costly.

Pottinger wishes he could worry less when Mother Nature throws curveballs and causes delays. He's also had a couple of odd planter repair issues this season that have added to the frustrations.

Having reliable help is key to dealing with times when the challenges can overwhelm, he noted. "I have a really good team on the farm. We cut up. We get along. We learn from each other. When the weather gets tough like it has this spring, they pull together and really help me cope with things that weigh on my mind," Pottinger said.

Pottinger and his wife, Leah, try to take several trips a year to unplug and learn more about the world beyond the farmgate. But their favorite way to deal with daily stressors is to head out in their Jeep truck. With the doors off and the music blaring, they check fields or just drive and spend time together.

Find DTN's profile of Quint Pottinger here:…

Dan Lakey's profile can be found here:…

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Pamela Smith

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