View From the Cab

Farmers Fight Weather in Planting Race

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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One of the benefits of farming at high elevations is the view, according to Idaho farmer Dan Lakey. This field was being planted to malt barley. (Photo courtesy of Dan Lakey)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Farming in southeastern Idaho requires different levels of weather resiliency. This week Dan Lakey watched snow fall on a newly emerging canola crop as freezing conditions cast an uncertain future on the tender seedlings.

"I'm hoping the snow insulates the crop a little," said Lakey, who lives in Soda Springs, Idaho, but farms across a 50-mile swath that includes high elevations and challenging conditions, as well as, breathtaking vistas. "So far, the crop seems to be hanging in there, but there's some evidence of freeze damage."

In central Kentucky, Quint Pottinger has been fighting his own weather battles with rain delays. "We've been in the field since mid-April, but have had only six days fit for planting," he noted on May 23. "This week we really pushed it and made good progress."

Pottinger and Lakey are participating in DTN's View From the Cab series. The volunteers report in on crop conditions and talk about rural issues throughout the growing season. This is the 20th year for the feature.

Active weather patterns have been a continuing theme for DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick this month and it makes forecasts tricky. "It all depends on the strength and speed of a trough moving through a ridge this week, but central Kentucky might have a good window of dryness this coming week (May 27 to June 1).

"It won't last forever though. Showers will probably move back in over the weekend. Temperatures should be cooler with highs in the 70s (Fahrenheit) instead of pushing 90 for most of the week," said Baranick.

For Soda Springs, there's still reason to grab a sweatshirt. "A trough will be moving through the area early-to-mid week, but shower chances are pretty low. Temperatures will probably fluctuate quite a bit and frosts continue to be a threat for a while," Baranick said.

Opening those planting windows becomes even more top of mind as prevented planting dates are drawing close. This week the farmers report on their crop progress and weed control scenarios this time of year. Read on to learn more about how availability of inputs and even what keeps the mind occupied during cab time.


There are deadlines and there are hard-and-fast deadlines. The prevented planting dates of May 31 for corn and June 15 for soybeans is set in stone for Quint Pottinger and Affinity Farms. In 2018, the farm partnered with a hedge fund group and part of the agreement includes adhering to crop insurance prevented planting dates.

Planting progress last week should allow them to finish planting this year before the calendar cutoff. But the season has compressed more than Pottinger would prefer.

"We had a solid run this past week and got about 600 acres planted and quite a bit of spraying over the last three days," he said. The long-range forecast looked promising to finish the remaining 250 acres of corn and 300 acres of soybeans before the prevented planting date, he said. The decision was made earlier to decrease intended corn acres from 1500 to 1100 acres based on the weather and market outlook. Those switched acres will go to soybeans.

One thing Pottinger feels strongly about is not burning the midnight oil no matter what worries mount. "On this farm, we rest. We work hard to stay prepared for every day," he said.

Experience from working for other farming operations convinced him that managing work hours is an important strategy. "One of the most successful operations I worked with had a strict cutoff time to the workday," he said.

"If we see a weather event coming in, we will respond by working longer hours. But prolonged days of long hours are not what we do. That's when mistakes get made, things go wrong and ultimately, you lose time," he said.

Field conditions weren't ideal on May 20, but Pottinger said they planted anyway. "If it had been April or early May, we would have waited one more day.

"We're just like many other farms around in that we have been chasing that drying day. We also experienced some of the best conditions we've planted into all year this week when things finally dried out," he added.

So far, he said the planted crop in central Kentucky is up and growing nicely apart from some wet holes. "We will need to continue to get rains in June. A high stress, dry period in June will show some of the sins of poor planting," he said.

This week they worked to get herbicide burndown applied to the remaining soybean acres and started postemergence applications in some corn fields. The farm is all non-GMO, so that limits postemergence herbicide options and puts pressure wise use of residuals.

Herbicide resistant marestail and Palmer amaranth are a concern in this region. Pottinger said he works closely with an agronomist to keep changing the herbicide program to keep those weeds confused. It's costly to keep changing the herbicide program, but more costly to let those weeds get ahead of you, he said. Crop rotation also helps.

The weed he worries about most is Johnsongrass. The fast-growing perennial readily reproduces from seed, but it is finger-sized, multi-branched rhizomes that really make it a tough adversary. Glyphosate does a decent job on it, Pottinger said. But once his non-GMO soybean crop has germinated, he loses that tool.

Landlords also don't like to see it waving above the soybean crop and that's good incentive to keep it in check. Rye, which is harvested as grain, lays down a thick matt which is a good weed control strategy in double-crop scenarios.

Supplies of herbicides and other inputs haven't been a problem this year, Pottinger said. But his program sometimes requires some last-minute shopping. "Our independent agronomist is in our fields every week if not more. If something isn't working, he's not afraid to switch up chemistry. I don't think we've had a situation in the last five years where we've used the same herbicide program and that's great. But it does make it difficult to buy ahead or lay in inventory," he said.

What he never worries about is having something to do while in the tractor. He looks forward to days when the phone doesn't ring and everything is working so he can enjoy podcasts or listen to a book. Currently in his earbud: Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity by Peter Attia.


These days, Dan Lakey finds he enjoys quiet time while making those long drives to the field or traversing the long rows once he gets there. But when he tires of his own thoughts, he also enjoys podcasts and audio books. He's partial to inspirational writings such as those by Jim Rohn, who grew up on an Idaho farm and wrote "How to Obtain Wealth & Happiness."

Encouraging thoughts are welcome relief when the weather turns rough. "It's not uncommon for us to get a cold night or two as we get into late May and early June. But this year seems to be cold and windy in general," he reported. "Everything's growing really slow. The winter wheat is still tillering. We don't even have anything that's in the boot stage. Everything is behind and seems to be sitting there being lazy and not wanting to grow because it's so cold."

In the same breath, Lakey will serve himself up a warming reminder about how snow can be an insulating blanket. This week while scouting canola fields shivering under 32-degree temperatures, he found himself reflecting about a half-inch of rain that fell prior to the snowflakes.

"Before that storm, I was noticing a lot of grain that I had planted too wet was starting to crust," he said. "I also found some spots in the canola where I was too shallow and it hadn't (germinated) yet.

"That half-inch of rain solved both of those problems, I think -- a bit of a gentle mercy, as it were," he said.

While Midwest farmers may be sweating the planting calendar date, Lakey feels on par with typical years. He still has about 2000 acres left to plant this year. The farm he nearly always finishes the season with is near Henry, Idaho, and along the scenic byway to Yellowstone National Park. Memorial Day weekend is about the soonest the snow clears from that area each year.

"Planting earlier almost always guarantees a replant situation due to freeze," he said. "Father's Day is the typical flip of the switch to hot and dry on those acres."

In 2023, Lakey took prevented planting for the first time ever. "We were so late and so wet that we had some lakes instead of fields," he said. With insurance dates that run into mid-to-late June, he doesn't see that happening this year.

If the frost bite on canola is too bad, he'll consider replanting. "Some of this was already replanted about three weeks ago and at a pretty vulnerable stage," Lakey said. "I'm seeing a lot of yellow and black leaves. If it doesn't pull out of that, we'll likely try one more time. If we can get it done in May, we still stand a chance to get a decent crop." Spring canola planted in June won't ripen in time for a fall freeze, he added.

Barley is more flexible. "We've replanted barley into the third week of June. It's a gamble, but if you have a favorable fall, you'll still get a decent crop," he said.

This cold has its benefits in that most pests can't survive the harsh conditions. Grasshopper pressure is a sometimes thing. "If we spray an insecticide on anything it is for wireworm," he said. Insecticidal seed treatments are used to protect canola from flea beetle.

Plant disease doesn't show up much either because the summers turn hot and dry. "I sometimes wish we had enough rain to worry about spraying fungicides," Lakey said.

Weeds are a bit more troublesome. Canadian thistle, Russian thistle, and broadleaves such as prickly lettuce and red root pigweed sometimes cause issues. Feral rye is the most feared grassy weed as it matures and shatters before wheat harvest and can lead to dockage.

This week he was doing kochia cleanup on some canola field borders with a UTV sprayer.

There's no room for tumbleweeds on this farm.

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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