Production Blog

A Lot of Ifs

The road to planting this season has been winding and filled with uncertainties, but take care not to let it overwhelm you. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- My husband's favorite saying is: "There's a lot of 'ifs' to all of this."

As a journalist who digs for concrete answers all day and many times into the night and too often into my sleeping hours, I can say with certainty that no other phrase makes me roll my eyes quite so obviously. What the heck does that phrase even mean? What are "ifs" anyway?

However, the past few weeks have made me adjust my "iffy" temper. As a staff we've been plotting the cropping contingencies like television sports anchors that notice every time a player changes shoelaces. Our mission is, as always, to provide the information readers need to dog paddle through the adversities.

Thank goodness we have top-notch folks on staff to handle those "simple" market, tariff and weather worries. All that's left is for the crops team to figure out how all those uncertainties play out in the field.

Anyone coming to visit central Illinois this week might have thought they took a wrong turn. From a distance, fields of yellow butterweed have washed across the landscape and look much like blooming canola or some other sunny crop in North Dakota or Canada. But as we know, butterweed and the other carpets of weeds, are evidence of how little fieldwork has been done.

Will this land get planted? What happens to those acres if it doesn't? Will or are farmers changing hybrid maturities? Will they switch from corn to beans or from beans to corn? Have we factored in how much treated soybean seed can't go back to the vendors? Will farmers change soybean herbicide trait platforms as deadlines loom in states with restrictive spray cut-off dates? What about livestock producers and their feed needs and potential silage plantings? What can we plant on prevent plant acres and how do you manage them? Did someone mention slugs, cutworms and armyworms in the crops that have emerged? What about lousy stand on those mudded acres and potential replant?

After getting peppered with these and a bunch of other questions this week, I suddenly realized at one point that I was doing Lamaze breathing (my youngest son is 26 ...)

I also know some farmers who have made good planting progress. How many acres and what does that mean?

I'm always reminded of my last year of high school when it won't stop raining. The circle drive in front of the school was flooded until graduation day and every plop of additional moisture seemed to remove any hope of college the following fall. We got the crop in, but to this day, what I really remember is the emotional stress of that spring and wondering about the future of our farm.

This week was Mental Health Awareness Week. On Wednesday, I attended a local meeting on the topic. I'm not used to sitting in people circles and talking about these kinds of issues. Like many farmers, my workdays are often spent alone. Companionship is the dog and my computer and my words. When things get tough, I've been taught to work harder and get tougher. When I need company, go to the field and find a local farmer and chat in the cab.

So I was surprised to come home with some simple tips that seem to apply to this stressful spring and to anyone struggling. They are: Take a break. Get exercise (even if it's a short walk). Do something for someone else because you want to and not because it is required. Eat right. Get good sleep. Get professional help if you need it.

It sounds simple, but for now, I know I need to take a deep breath and realize "that there are still a lot of ifs" to this season.

Don't roll your eyes -- many of those "ifs" we can't control, but what we can do is take care of ourselves -- there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN



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