Planting Season 101


I recently talked about Poo Season.  I also talked about how spring is a busy season for farmers and ranchers.  There are baby animals to welcome into the world and fields to prep and crops to get into the ground.  Spring is busy.  While harvest is the go-go-go time of the year for grain farmers, many would say spring is the more stressful time.  Why?

Well, for one, there are set dates to aim for with planting specific crops.  Some crop insurance policies will only cover crops planted in between specific dates.  The time and conditions of field preparation and planting can also set the standard for the crop for the rest of the year.  If that crop can’t get planted, there’s no income.  An overly-wet spring can cause setbacks where the ground is too soft and muddy to get tractors into the field.  An unfortunately-dry spring can also lead to problems, as rain is a necessity once the seeds have sprouted and begun to grow.  Farmers rely on and hope for the perfect rains at the perfect time in the perfect amount.  This goes beyond just ground conditions.  Even if the weather is initially nice for planting, there is always the risk of a heavy rain too soon after planting.  This means that seeds can either be drowned or washed out, which means a farmer may need to replant sections of field, or cut their losses and leave the wet sections be.

Young crops can easily become drowned or washed up by rains like those we saw in May of 2010. Farmers faced flooding and crop loss because of a single record-breaking rainstorm on Memorial Day Weekend.

Right before planting, farmers prep their fields for the growing season.  This sometimes means tillage, but more often than not it means other fieldwork such as spreading fertilizers.  Anhydrous ammonia is the most common fertilizer for corn, but other pre-planting options are slurry (a manure-water mixture that was discussed in my Poo Season post), liquid nitrogen, and mineral solids like potash.  While the benefits of these fertilizers are great, sometimes a hefty rain can ruin the effort.  Hard work and money can be wasted if rain comes at the wrong time.

In our area, farmers are caught in a game of hurry-up-and-wait prior to planting.  Good weather must be taken advantage of, for things like fertilizer application and fieldwork.  However, it hasn’t been warm enough or dry enough for planting to begin just yet.  We had a nice stretch of perfect pre-planting weather; now, an entire week of off-and-on rain is making the ground too wet and chilly.

In northern Illinois, farmers are catching the pre-planting blues.  The date to aim for is April 15th (at least for the local farmers I know).  With the rains that we’ll be getting this week, there’s still some hope of rolling on the 15th.  However, we’re quickly approaching a date after which we can’t afford to get any more cold, wet days.  So, farmers are starting to hope for warm, windy, sunny weather in the future, and a few nice days to get the crops in the ground.

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a farmer, nor am I an agronomist or crop scientist.  I am a communicator.  If you notice any information in this post is incorrect or could be clarified, please let me know via comments and I will do what I can to correct it or address it.  THANK YOU!

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