View From the Cab

Weather Continues to Snarl Farmer Planting Progress

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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The resident farm dog, an Australian Shepherd, named Koby, guards a growing corn crop at Affinity Farms in central Kentucky. Corn planting finally finished this week with the exception of some replant. (DTN photo courtesy of Quint Pottinger)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Planting has become a saga--or perhaps better described as a slog--for Quint Pottinger this spring. The New Haven, Kentucky, farmer may have started the process in April, but he barely made the prevented planting date deadline for corn this week and still has soybeans to plant.

In Idaho, Dan Lakey has a longer view of the season at elevations of 6000 ft. in the southeastern section of Idaho. But rain showers doused his farm fields this week too, and it is now crunch time to get the rest of the small grains seeded for the year.

With weeds and spraying season knocking on the door, there's no shortage of jobs to keep busy even if the weather plays nice. Pottinger doesn't have to look too far for perspective, though, as tornadoes and straight-line winds tore through western Kentucky this week.

"In central Kentucky, we just need enough drying weather to get finished," said Pottinger. "What has emerged looks good."

Lakey and Pottinger are volunteering their time and comments to document the 2024 growing season as part of DTN's annual View From the Cab series. This is the 20th year for the project that covers agronomic conditions and other rural topics.

Weather continues to dominate thoughts this week. And DTN ag meteorologist John Baranick said that's not likely to change for Pottinger. Another round of rain is predicted for June 1-2, and a couple of fronts and systems are expected to move through in the week following.

"They'll be underneath an upper-level low by late in the week, which keeps chances around through the weekend and probably next week (June 10-17), but this usually means light and brief showers and nothing very dramatic," Baranick said, noting that's a long-range forecast.

"Temperatures will also trend toward the milder and cooler side. A lot of highs in the upper 70s by late week and weekend when they should be in the lower 80s. Not dramatically cold, but cooler.

Lakey gets a bit of a weather break, by comparison, Baranick said. "In the Soda Springs area, it will be cool for the front half of the week and a system moving through on Monday will probably deliver some rain, but then it should be completely dry the rest of the week," he said.

"An upper-level ridge moving into the area will mess with temperatures, and it won't be as hot as it could be if they were at a lower elevation, but it'll still be warm with temperatures up toward 80 degrees by the weekend and the risk of frost will be lower. The mountains can mess with that sometimes, but the risk is still pretty low," Baranick added.

This week the farmers talk about weather delays, replant decisions, communications, dragging equipment across the miles and how they identify fields.


Dan Lakey isn't about to balk at a rain shower when the average annual rainfall he sees on his farm falls at about 15 inches each year. This past week rain locked him out of field operations for a couple of days, but the biggest rain event realized was only three-tenths of an inch.

"We were thankful to have it," said Lakey, who is hoping the forecast for more rainfall next week materializes, too. He was also hoping to finish up the last of seeding this week. "We do have a little skip with the drill that we need to fix," he reported. "But in general, we're in pretty good shape this year."

The planting window is so short in this area that replant is seldom a worthwhile option. "Sometimes canola and mustard require some replanting after a hard freeze. With canola, if there are three plants or more per square foot, we will leave the stand," Lakey said.

"In the past, we have replanted cereal crops due to soil crusting, but since practicing a predominately direct seed system, that has been greatly reduced," he added. Lakey said in 2020, he replanted some spring wheat three times ,with the final effort being drilled in late June and early July.

"It was a disaster," he recalled. "We had a wireworm infestation that kept devouring stands. Since then, we've been very diligent about wireworm seed treatments in our cereal crops and the problem has been eliminated."

The latest weekly NASS Crop Progress Report pegged both the Idaho winter and spring wheat crops as 67% good to excellent, with barley rated 75% good to excellent. Spring wheat was considered 96% planted, which is on par with the 5-year average. Winter wheat was 8% headed.

One of the biggest struggles Lakey faces each year is simply moving equipment. The farm operations are spread out about 50 miles and include some scenic areas where drivers aren't always accustomed to watching for slow-moving implements.

Since he can spend an entire day just moving from one operation to another, it is important to be strategic to avoid unnecessary road time and to have enough drivers on deck when it does happen. "One of the farms near Henry (Idaho) is on Highway 34, which is a scenic byway and is jampacked with people coming to and from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park.

"There are tour buses that zoom by about every 10 minutes. The road is very windy and narrow, and it runs through open rangeland on public lands where cattle don't have to be fenced and roam freely. So, there are always cattle strung all the way across the road, and it leads to many accidents and several fatalities every year," he said.

"No matter how hard we try, it seems like we are always in this area planting on Memorial weekend and or moving combines around Labor Day," he said.

One thing that keeps things sorted is all the farms are named. "Many of them are named by the people we either farm for or that used to own them.

"Sometimes the name is what the previous owners used. A couple of places are named after the town they are close to or a landmark," he said.


Quint Pottinger remembers the excitement he and wife, Leah, had about naming their fields in the early days of farming. Generally, those designations corresponded to the name of the closest town. But that naming system has broken down over time since they started to grow the operation.

"We generally use GPS coordinates these days when Leah brings us food or parts or moves a piece of equipment to avoid confusion," he said.

Knowing where they are headed has been especially important since the season has required constantly moving to find a place dry enough to work. Over the past weekend, several pop-up showers were followed by a driving 1.5-inch rain for an accumulation of 3.5 inches, which was enough to put planting on hold for several days.

On May 29, Pottinger still had about 250 acres of corn left to plant. He finished planting the last of those acres with about an hour left on the May 31 prevented planting deadline. He'd previously decided to switch 400 acres of corn to soybeans when the season became compressed.

"The main problem we have had this week is the top of the ground is too wet and we've also had a lot of fog and wet mornings. And it's been cool all week. So, everything just seems to be drying slowly," he reported.

The May 26 NASS Crop Progress report put Kentucky behind on corn planting at 73% planted compared to 85% for a five-year average. Soybeans came in at 54% planted compared to 54% for the five-year average.

Pottinger said May rains also left ponded areas that will require some replanting. The total acreage for his farm isn't huge--maybe 50 acres total. But it is spread out in distance and dotted across fields.

"I'm currently looking for a four to six-row conservation-type planter that we can use with a small tractor to make less of a mess as we try to patch in," he said.

In this region, tile is important to help with the drying, particularly along the river bottoms. "We've also got some weird areas that aren't bottom ground but are next to knobs that seep. We tile through those to keep the water off.

"Of course, this week the river is up, which means the creeks are up and standing tile doesn't drain well. Hopefully, everything will go down before we get rains predicted for this weekend (June 1-2)," he said.

Looking for a silver lining is always important, he figured. The rain delays last weekend allowed him to attend a high school graduation and spend time with family that might have otherwise been spent in the field. One of those down days ended up being a much-needed repair day when an auger in the granary sheared bolts. "A bird had built a nest in the pipe. We had plenty of hands available and didn't have to shut down field operations for the repair," he said.

A few of those acres switched to soybeans had already been sprayed with herbicides, but he said rainfall totals provided enough dilution to make them safe for soybean planting. Soybean seed availability is a question, but he's all non-GMO and that seed is easier to obtain than if he was competing for traited varieties.

Constantly throttling up and down expectations based on the weather can be frustrating. To keep organized, Pottinger uses a group text to farm staff each morning about an hour before everyone shows up for work. Depending on the day, the message might simply establish a meeting location to discuss plans. Or it might give more specific orders, such as deploying workers to make grain deliveries to a distillery, load nurse trailers, fill seed tenders or whatever else is on the docket for the day.

Around 10:30 each morning, communications go out again to reconnect. With only three main operators and two support employees and fields spread across miles, it can be easy to get disorganized.

"When we head to the farthest fields, I like to keep the corn planter, bean planter and sprayer all together, if possible. It rarely works out, but that's the goal," he said.

Pottinger hopes soybean planting is finished before the June 15 prevented planting date because wheat is starting to turn. "We've had another great, cool spring for wheat to fill. But it seems to be maturing early.

"Wheat should be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks and rye will be right behind it," he said.

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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