View From the Cab
Wacky Weather Creates Hectic Planting Scenario for Farmers
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Luke Garrabrant has one word for the 2022 planting season so far: hectic.
"I really prefer for the season to be a long marathon. The slow, wet start has us doing a lot of sprints without any time to catch our breath this year," said the Johnstown, Ohio, farmer. "We're getting the work done, but a lot of the farming operations we do are compressed, and everything seems to be happening at once. I'm just keeping my head up, nose to the grindstone and trying not to get overwhelmed."
Marc Arnusch has the experiences of 28 cropping seasons to guide decisions. It makes uncertain years go a bit smoother when you've been through previous farming rollercoasters. Still, the Keenesburg, Colorado, farmer has never faced the wild market swings and input uncertainties of the current season.
Add wild weather to the list of challenges. On Thursday, May 19, his farming area went from highs of 90 degrees Fahrenheit to 90% chance of snow in a matter of 24 hours. "We're so dry that we're happy to get snow if it shows up," Arnusch proclaimed. "At least it is wet."
Garrabrant and Arnusch are participating in DTN's View From the Cab feature this year. It follows two farmers from different geographical regions throughout the crop season. This is the fourth installment of the reports.
This week, the farmers give an update of their planting progress and talk about the necessity to scout fields for crop pests and an occasional buried cellphone.
MARC ARNUSCH, KEENESBURG, COLORADO
Precipitation in the form of snow in late May wouldn't be on everyone's wish list, but Marc Arnusch wasn't about to complain. It has been so dry in his region that even extended-release moisture was welcome.
This week, the farm started receiving the first of two, 10-day allotments of irrigation water. Arnusch had already been wondering how to make that trickle stretch long enough to bring silage corn and grain sorghum to maturity.
By Saturday, May 21, the farm had so far escaped the white stuff, although neighboring areas received measurable amounts. He noted that Alma, which is in the intermountain basin, picked up over 20 inches of snow. "A lot of that snowmelt might make it into our ditch district eventually.
"We have gotten 0.48 of an inch of rain out of the system so far and are grateful to receive it," Arnusch said.
"We were getting incredibly dry again and running out of irrigation quickly. Even this amount of moisture will help us out a lot," he said. Pivots were temporarily turned off as temperatures plummeted, but Arnusch expected irrigation to continue soon.
Spring barley has emerged, and the farm is within days of seeing the corn spike. Arnusch said there are some early signs of new-crop milo appearing. "Snow and these cooler temperatures should not be an issue for us in terms of any kind of freeze. We feel soil temperatures are high enough, and we're not going to be cold long enough to withstand any damage.
"The biggest concern we have right now is some of the winter wheat is beginning to head out. It's a wait-and-see on wheat as to whether we have damage," Arnusch said. "And a lot of that depends on how long temperatures stay cold."
When the High Plains get snow in the late spring, it is usually preceded by some heat the day before, said John Baranick, DTN ag meteorologist. A strong cold front moving through creates an "upslope flow" into the Rockies.
"The strong contrast between a very hot air mass and a very cold one usually leads to a precipitation event," Baranick explained. "Sometimes that means that snow will be the result behind that front if it gets cold enough. Still, snow in mid to late May is not very common in Colorado outside of the mountains.
"Keenesburg, Colorado, may have escaped the snow from this event, but closer to the mountains in Boulder saw several inches, and to the south on the Palmer Divide and into Colorado Springs, snowfall reports were closer to a foot. The cold air is going to stick around going into next week, but there will be more chances for at least some rain for this part of the country that is still in drought and really needs it," Baranick said.
Those lower temperatures might be good news for looming pest problems, such as wheat stem sawfly. Starting in early to mid-May, these small yellow-and-black wasps can be found on wheat plants along the edges of fields. Last week, Arnusch and his farm team were walking fields, looking for this pest. They were also finding some cutworm and wireworm.
Arnusch has maintained a Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) status since 1998. "Something that has been really important on our farm is being your own detective. You can't scout from the pickup, you have to get into the field," Arnusch said.
Maintaining that CCA certification requires continuing education hours that can span many topics, including chemistry, soil health and water quality. A lot of those topics are increasingly important in policymaking, which he said keep him tuned up when called on to talk on agricultural topics to legislators.
Soil moisture probes and satellite imagery are good examples of tools that Arnusch and his farm team use to make critical decisions. But swinging sweep nets and understanding basic biology of insects, for example, also remain critical to management. "We try to adopt the right kinds of technology that help us become better growers. But I also find it fun to teach the next generation how important it is to be intuitive, as well.
"They sometimes roll their eyes when I suggest to look for cutworm activity when the lilac starts to bloom or rootworm when the cotton starts to fly from the cottonwood trees. But it is surprising how much we can learn from our surroundings if we pay attention," he said.
Arnusch may have nearly three decades of farming under his belt, but he knows change is the only real constant in this business. Still, the current market scenario is difficult to read for the most experienced.
"The volatility in the wheat market is something else. We can be up 30 cents and down 45 cents within hours. Trying to find a market position has been difficult," he said. "These are the craziest markets I've ever experienced in my career.
Adding the environmental risk to financial risk grows the challenge. "I don't know if we're going to beat Mother Nature this year or not, but we're sure going to try, and we're going to learn a lot getting through this season," he said. "These markets are giving us a chance to look ahead to 2023. I'm not losing sight of that, and I see opportunity. The difficulty is we can't yet lock in 2023 inputs."
LUKE GARRABRANT, JOHNSTOWN, OHIO
Luke Garrabrant figures the only time he was standing still this week was when he was searching for his cellphone. He realized too late that he'd left it laying on the field cultivator during a maintenance check and buried it in the field.
Phones can be replaced, but the momentary lapse was a sign that life has been one big rush of activity of late. "Things really cut loose this week in this part of Ohio," said Garrabrant.
"We get forecasts of rains, and they either fizzle out or we get one-tenth to a quarter of an inch and we're back running eight hours later. It has truly been crazy," he said.
Cornstalks have been holding moisture a little tighter. Garrabrant said he prefers to no-till as much as possible, but his father has been opening some fields with a vertical tillage tool to promote drying ahead of soybean planting.
"It seems to be working well, and I may need to consider that if I can't get enough drying weather on the fields I have left to plant," he said.
DTN Ag Meteorologist Baranick reported that Johnstown dodged most of the heavier showers that moved across the southern Midwest late in the week, but the area remains in an active pattern. The front that went through Keenesburg, Colorado, was scheduled to move slowly through Ohio over the weekend.
"Temperatures will cool, but not to the extreme like in Colorado," Baranick said. "Another system will bring scattered showers and thunderstorms May 25-26. This part of the country may luck out with a more extended break for the last few days of May going into the first few days of June, which will probably help them plant the last of their crop. Overall, temperatures will be closer to normal after the front goes through this weekend and could get hot again going into early June."
While the area got off to a somewhat slow start with little planting in April, May conditions have turned to what Garrabrant calls ideal, especially when he considers what other parts of the country are enduring. Rising soil temperatures have encouraged recently planted cornfields to emerge in four to five days, Garrabrant noted. "It's easy to find fields that can be rowed, and stands are looking good. I've not heard of any replant situations in this area," he said.
Still, this is the kind of spring he dreads. Besides farming his own acreage, he also has a custom manure-spreading business and custom applies other crop inputs, such as herbicides. "I need a spring where things happen slowly, and this year, I just didn't get opportunities in April," he said.
He hired full-time and part-time help for the first time this year, which has helped dramatically. "All the jobs I do sort of fit together in a huge intricate puzzle.
"Just as soon as I finish planting, spraying and spreading, I'll dive into first-cutting hay. Then, it will be time to sidedress corn, which I also do for other people. Then, it will be time to post spray beans. That leads to wheat harvest. Then, it will be about time for second-cutting hay," he said.
Additional boots in the field looking for in-season agronomic problems is also on the priority list this year. His wife, Paige, is in the final steps of getting her CCA and plans to help in those efforts. Some acres are also being enrolled in AgriGold's Yield Master program, which includes tissue sampling at key growth periods.
Add a toddler and moving to a different home into the hectic mix. The family purchased a historic farm home earlier this year and have been doing some renovations. "We spent the first night in it this week. I must give a huge shoutout to Paige. She's been an absolute rockstar in taking charge of all that moving and not requiring much of me during this crazy season," he said.
Read last week's installment of View from the Cab: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Read the profile of View From the Cab participants Marc Arnusch https://www.dtnpf.com/… and Luke Garrabrant https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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