Spring planting picks up, but some farmers hold offby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
FRANKLIN, Minn. — The pace of spring planting is picking up today across Minnesota now that an important deadline for crop insurance coverage has passed.
But the push to plant the state's $7 billion corn probably won't be the all-out rush expected a few weeks ago.
The March warm spell was so unusual it had farmers thinking about planting right then, way ahead of schedule. It was a natural response to temperatures in the 60s, 70s and even over 80 degrees.
But federal crop insurance considerations held most of them back. Under one provision, farmers who plant before April 11 will not be covered for any loss due to frost damage.
With the insurance constraint disappearing today, more farmers are heading to the field, crop consultant Jim Nesseth said. But he said uncertain weather means they won't be in a rush to plant.
A big concern is cold weather.
"I think there'll be a number of acres planted starting today and continue as long as the weather permits," said Nesseth, who owns Extended Ag Services in Lakefield, Minn. "But again, the sense of urgency to get a lot of acres in I just don't think is there. Because we can't predict what the weather's going to do. And it's really tempered I think the enthusiasm to get out there."
Farmers have seen crop-killing frosts as late as May. Many worry that the forecast for cooler weather in coming days makes that more likely this year.
One of those who exercised restraint is southern Minnesota farmer Brian Greenslit. In February, he thought he might plant in mid-April. He was ready to go, but as the date drew closer, memories of past experiences made him less eager to start early.
"The hard part is to refrain from doing anything," Greenslit said. "The field conditions are absolutely perfect. But we have to remind ourselves of what the date is on the calendar."
Greenslit said because he has had frost damage before when he planted early, he's going to wait until at least next week to get started. He said numerous studies show that late April is the best time to plant corn.
"Most of them have come up with April 25th as being the day," Greenslit said. "If you could plant 100 percent of your corn crop on one day, it would be April 25th. So my thought is five days either side of that."
Besides possible frost, lack of rain is another big weather concern for Minnesota farmers. Most of the state is in moderate to severe drought conditions.
Jeff Strock, a soil scientist at the University of Minnesota's research center near Lamberton in southwest Minnesota, said a yard of average southern Minnesota farm soil can hold up to six inches of water. Not this year.
"When you look at the top three feet, we've got about an inch of available soil moisture there," Strock said. "So that gives you a perspective that we're really, really dry."
Strock said southwestern Minnesota needs at least six inches of rain to get back to normal. There are chances for rain this week, and if precipitation falls that will improve the rate of seed germination.
Despite all the uncertainty about frost and rain, this year's early spring is still a plus even for farmers who have decided to wait to plant. It's given them time to do any plowing or fertilizing they didn't finish up last fall.
Greenslit hopes for one other benefit: time to kill weeds that have begun to grow.
"I've got a wild cucumber, and I've got a lambsquarter and what I think is a red pigweed," Greenslit said as he plucked a few from the ground to identify them. "And there's quite a few of them coming up right now."
Normally Greenslit would treat his field with weed killer to eliminate them. But he still has more plowing to do to prepare his fields for planting. He hopes the plowing will kill the weeds, saving him the cost of the herbicide and the fuel to spread it.
- All Things Considered, 04/11/2012, 5:50 p.m.