View From the Cab
Weather or Not: Corn and Soy Planting Progress Hinges on Rainfall
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- All signs pointed to an early spring for northwest Missouri farmer Zach Grossman. He had near perfect conditions for planting in April but had idled the planter the second week of May to wait for more moisture. Lack of rainfall is also influencing his pasture management strategy.
So far this spring, waiting for the right planting conditions has had a different meaning for Chandra and Mike Langseth, who farm in southeast corner of North Dakota. Many of their fields were still too wet to plant this week and they would welcome a temporary dry spell.
While it's hard not to fixate on the forecast during crunch time, these farmers figure worrying doesn't change the scenario. "It's funny how spring catches up to you. We probably have two more days of planting to be done. That puts us middle to end of May -- right where we strive to be every year. The good news is I'm far enough ahead this year that I felt I could wait for better conditions to finish planting beans," said Grossman.
The Langseths and Grossman are reporting in this season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series, a weekly look of crop conditions and events on the farm. In this first combined report of the season, they detail how the season is progressing. They talk about scouting for early season pests and why keeping life in balance is important as long workdays easily turn into nights.
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
Chandra Langseth was able to get a good view of the fieldwork that's been done in her farming area as she traveled to visit college students this week. "All of our students are required to participate in an internship between their first and second year of studies and I like to see what they are doing first-hand," she said. Chandra teaches precision agriculture and agronomy courses at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton and farms with her husband, Mike.
The USDA May 7 Crop Progress Report pegged North Dakota corn as 1% planted, equal to last year, and 11% behind average. "It's super spotty," Chandra reported of fieldwork she observed. "Near Wahpeton and in northwestern Minnesota, farmers were getting a lot done. Where we farm, not much has been planted yet."
The good thing about having some sandy soil types is those fields tend to dry out faster than others. Despite some rain showers this week, Mike was able to pick and choose enough fit fields to stay busy. Most of their fields sit within 5 miles of the home place and are concentrated within a 15-mile radius. Still, rainfall this week varied from 0.5 inches to 1 inch, depending on the field location.
DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said fronts moving through the Barney area could deliver widespread showers during the weekend. But things start to shape up next week with temperatures in the 70s Fahrenheit in the afternoon and lows either side of 50. "It should be good growing weather for anything in the ground and pretty decent for draining any soils that are too wet," he said.
The green flag often drops on the race to get planted in early-to-mid-May in this part of the state. It's good timing since Chandra's switches her teaching cap to farmer cap this week. When there is enough people power, the corn planter and soybean drill run simultaneously. Corn is planted on 30-inch rows and soybeans are no-till drilled on 15-inch spacings on each side of the previous corn row.
Soybeans don't get as leggy in this part of the world and narrow rows help with weed control, which can be a challenge. In general, the farm has a weed control strategy that includes some kind of burndown with a residual pre-emerge, followed by a different chemistry post at layby in both corn and soybeans.
As soon as the crop begins emerging, Chandra takes stand assessments. "Corn is more critical than soybeans regarding stands (because soybeans are so good at compensating). But I walk the soybean fields just to be sure we know what we have," she said.
"Scouting here is an easy gig. It's mostly weeds at this time of year," she said. Kochia, common lambsquarters and marestail can be problems, but waterhemp is the big troublemaker. Cutworm can be an occasional early season pest.
Weeds don't wait for planting to end. The Langseths do most of their own spraying, but they occasionally hire a custom applicator rather than let a situation get out of control. Weed control is not only trickier in soybeans, but more critical since they raise seed beans.
"The biggest battle this time of year is trying to determine how to do things right and not rush," Chandra said. "It's easy to start feeling behind, but it was mid-May before we finally put our first corn in the ground in 2022 and we had a heck of a crop.
"Sure, it would be nice to have more acres planted, but we've spent a lot of time getting fields tuned up this year after a tile project and I think it was the right call," she added.
While there's a definite push to get the crop planted, the Langseths keep an eye on each other. "I think we do a good job of looking out for our well-being by making sure we don't go all hours of the night," Chandra said. "We go hard, but we do everything we can to take Sunday as a rest day."
The stress of farming ratcheted up with high priced inputs and other uncertainties in recent years, Mike acknowledged. "It's not easy when weather locks you out this time of year, and you are watching top end yield slip away. But we try to keep things in perspective and just try to make sure we are ready to go when we do get opportunities," he said.
ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI
Scattered showers are always welcome, but Grossman would appreciate a good soaker where he farms near Tina, Missouri. "We received around 3/10 to 4/10 earlier in the week that really helped, but drought has expanded here," he reported.
Baranick wishes he had a magic wand as isolated showers of 0.50 inches or less are all he sees in the forecast for Grossman's area for the coming week. "A couple of fronts will move through, but they just don't look promising for producing much in the way of rainfall. But that's the thing about weather -- it is always changing," said Baranick.
Grossman lacks 300 acres of being planted. What's left is a piece of property he's leasing for the first time this year. To smooth out some rough spots and generally get it into shape, the parcel was vertical tilled and worked slightly more than normal, which had a drying effect.
"I rather wait than plant soybeans too deep or let them sit in dry soil," he said. "We've still got some time."
When it comes to his corn stand, Grossman couldn't be happier. Stand counts have shown excellent germination. "We had about 40 acres that got planted right ahead of a 1-inch rain, followed by some cool temperatures. Even it pulled through and looks decent. With the exception of that field, I think almost every kernel we put in the ground came up," he said.
Some of those rains caused crusting for some farmers, though. "I have seen some rotary hoes being pulled out of some fence rows and put back into service. I've heard of the possibility of a little soybean replant, but for the most part I think the crop that is up is in good shape," he said.
Pastures need a good drink, too. Grossman held off fertilizing grass summer pastures with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur this year until late April. "Seems like we almost always get a late cold snap or freeze around Easter. I was tired of losing that early growth from fertilizing to freeze. But now I'm left wishing for more rain to get it activated," he said.
That decision was also made since he went into spring with plenty of hay to feed. "Usually, this time of year we get the pairs worked and go straight to summer pasture. I was lucky enough this year that I still had a good supply of hay. I made the choice of feeding it a little later into the spring in the hopes that rain falls and that fertilized grass will come on strong enough that I don't have to feed hay again until after the first of the year," he explained.
Such strategies don't always work because Mother Nature always gets her way, Grossman reflected. But thinking ahead and playing these odds are part of the resiliency or optimism that farmers have that allows them to weather the storms -- or lack of them.
At 30, Grossman considers himself something of an old soul, probably because he's been mentored by several of them. His combined schedule as a full-time loan officer at the local bank and farming can mean some long hours, especially when the windows for getting a crop in begin to narrow.
"When my grandfather died five years ago, I suddenly realized how much I leaned on him to back up my decisions and help make a plan of action. A friend who knew I was feeling overwhelmed at the time advised that I say these words to myself when things pile up: 'It'll get done.' It sounds simple, but it helps to keep those words in the back of my mind," he said.
"It'll get done. It always does."
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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