Farmers, ag suppliers bracing for busy planting season
Mark Hess knows one thing for sure—the work still has to be done.
The Leaf River Ag agronomist has insights into agriculture all over the United States and the world but his primary interest now is west-central Minnesota—where piles of snow are still finding a place to park and snowstorms are still pummeling. Portions of Otter Tail County received 8 inches of white stuff on the final day of March.
"There is evidence that we are losing some frost in some ground because our water is going down but there is a lot of it that is going to be froze, there is a lot that is going to be shaded by trees on the south side of the field." Hess said. "It's going to prevent snow from melting - there's a lot of issues. It is going to take awhile for all of the field to be in shape to farm."
April is typically the first farming month of the year in Minnesota but even in the lighter soil of the Wadena area it takes some help from Mother Nature to start the farm implements rolling.
"Mother Nature is still in control," Hess said when contacted on the first Monday of April.
"We will wait on her. We won't wait patiently but we will wait."
Mid-April usually finds local farmers busy in the fields but Hess is not optimistic about this year's chances. In addition to drying up enough for tractors, diggers and planters, the soil temperature has to be decent.
Wheat can be planted earlier but corn, the area's top bushel maker, needs 50 degree soil temperatures.
"Until we get to the middle of the month we are not even concerned about corn and beans," Hess said. "I think you are looking at the 20 something of April before we really get into some decent planting (for corn). That is later than normal."
As April arrives the price of soybeans is $9.50 a bushel, wheat is $5.50 and corn is $3.15.
Hess noted the first official day of planting in April is the 11th according to the crop insurance providers. Any crops planted before that date cannot be insured.
Hess said some growers are anticipating a better price for wheat this year. A drought in wheat-growing regions of Kansas and Oklahoma is expected to alter some plans for those farmers.
Local farmers prefer going with corn and soybeans as their cash crops. After a huge crop of corn in 2017, American farmers are expected to switch their allegiance to soybeans in 2018.
"This will be the first year in the United States where soybean acres are going to overtake corn acres," Hess said.
While unseasonable weather will cause the planting season to shrink, Hess observed that farmers today need less time to put their crops in the field.
"The size of planters these guys have today compared to 20 years ago or 30 years ago are such that they can probably plant their crop in five to 10 days," Hess said.
That does not mean growers do not have their nerves tested. Along with the shorter time required for planting has come a more restricted crop insurance window. Instead of having until the 15th or 20th of May to sew corn seed, the planting season has been moved up to the 10th.
Hess anticipates some corn acres, despite the much greater bushel production, being switched out for beans.
"It's like what we've said here for years - we're going to do the same amount of work we just have less days to do it in now and it's the same with the farmer - he still has the same amount of work, he's just got less days to get it accomplished in, so things have to go right for all of us."
It all adds up to a tougher planting season for farmers and for ag suppliers life Leaf River.
"I am sure we will be working on Saturdays and Sundays when this thing breaks," Hess said.