DTN Fieldwork Roundup

Farmers Brace for Whirlwind Planting Season as Trade Concerns Loom

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Cold weather has kept farmers from doing planting prep such as tillage, weed control and fertilizer applications this spring. (DTN file photo)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Cold, snow and rain have kept farmers out of the field across the Midwest, but once the sun starts shining, watch out.

"We do have a good forecast, and when things dry out, it will break loose," said Cory Ritter, who farms in central Illinois.

Ritter is among a group of producers whom DTN periodically surveys throughout the season for its Fieldwork Roundup stories. Known as DTN Agronomy Advisers, this group of farmers and ranchers report back on fieldwork, crop conditions and other issues facing agriculture.

Like Ritter, most farmers in the Midwest told DTN of cold, wet soils and stalled tillage, fertilizer and weed-control plans. In addition to the stress of a late, rushed spring, the farmers also voiced concerns about low commodity prices and the possibility of a trade war with China over proposed tariffs.


Unpleasant as this spring has been, it's a familiar one for many, said Gerald Gauck, who received both snow and rain in the past three weeks in southeast Indiana. "I'm not too worried yet," he said. "We didn't start planting corn until the end of May and first few days of June last year, [and we] had the best crop ever."

Not everyone is remaining as calm. "Lot of guys are starting to worry about getting in the field, and I have heard some rumblings of people trading 105-to-110-day corn in for quicker-maturing corn," said Jim Cronk of northern Iowa.

Patience is proving a virtue, said Illinois farmer John Werries. "There were a few farmers around here who planted some corn and even a few beans," he said. "All of the experts said the worst thing that can happen is a cold rain 24 to 48 hours after you plant, and that is exactly what happened."

Producers in upper Midwestern states are facing the worst spring conditions. Two producers from Minnesota, Jeff Littrell and Justin Honebrink, faced multiple snowstorms this week alone.

"Cattle are confused as they lost the winter coat," Littrell said. "We're still bedding them like January." Both he and Honebrink estimated they are at least three weeks away from any meaningful fieldwork, much less planting.

"The co-op I work at has yet to apply an acre of spring fertilizer," added Jay Magnussen, who endured blizzard conditions in northwestern Iowa in mid-April. "We are looking at a very condensed spring."

Southern states have seen milder conditions, but the spring has still been a rollercoaster, reported Zack Rendel, who farms in northeastern Oklahoma. He hit his usual corn-planting timeline in late March, but nothing has been normal since.

"One day, it's 80 degrees, sunny and nice, the next, 40 degrees and wind blowing," he reported. "We received a half-inch snowfall here on April 7th, and night temperatures went down to 22 degrees." His canola came through the freeze in good condition, and in the meantime, Rendel has wrapped up his corn planting.


The only good news from the frigid Midwest is that weeds are as miserable as the farmers, a number of producers noted.

"The cold weather has slowed the growth of weeds and our regular weed program should work," said Ritter, who is trying out the Liberty Link system this year to try to rein in resistant waterhemp.

In Ohio, Keith Peter's fall herbicide program and rye cover crop have so far kept winter annuals in check, but the window for pre-plant applications is small and shrinking fast.

Werries, who uses cover crops for soil health, erosion control and weed suppression, hopes to start burning down his covers this week.


Waiting on the weather has given growers plenty of opportunity to scrutinize news reports of the proposed tariffs on American ag products and the potential for a trade war with China.

Most of the farmers surveyed voiced concerns about the effect on exports and prices.

"We are in a very tough spot trying to make money farming," Magnussen said. "If exports of anything drop, we may lose money this year."

Cronk is also concerned about missing out on key trade deals as well as the fiery rhetoric between the U.S. and China. "I truly believe there are economic signs to show we are starting to see an uptick in commodity prices, but if we start a trade war with China or lose out or opt out of other trade deals, I think it will [send] prices even lower," he said. "Hopefully, it's a lot of buffaloing from both sides."

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee


Emily Unglesbee