From cool to chaos to crop: Farmers overcome obstacles during spring planting
On an unseasonably warm Friday in May, in a field east of Alexandria, Joel Dahlheimer stands behind his John Deere tractor and tinkers with his planter.
Dahlheimer had high hopes for planting progress on this Friday, but says he's learned over his 39 years of farming that things rarely go according to plan.
"I keep thinking it's not supposed to be this way," he said. "It's my 39th year and I'm supposed to just cruise right into this. It shouldn't be like this, but every year is that way. You've got to start with some kind of chaos, then things go."
And things have started to go in recent weeks. As the weather has warmed, planting across the state has picked up. So far, it is on track to be an average spring despite cold weather that persisted into May.
"I think there was a lot of concern early on about the delay," said Steve Frericks, county executive director of the Douglas County FSA Office. "But with the technology that today's farmers have, they can really get a lot done quickly. This past weekend there was huge progress made towards getting things done timely. I'm definitely not going to say that we are behind anymore, because things are looking good."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, the week ending on May 14 proved to be warm and dry, with 6.3 days suitable for fieldwork and planting.
"To me, it's very average right now, now that the weather changed," Dahlheimer said. "(A few weeks ago) it felt like Old Man Winter was breathing on you constantly."
During the week ending May 14, 49 percent of the state's corn acres, 43 percent of soybean acres and 28 percent of the spring wheat acreage was planted. After that week's progress, a total of 84 percent of Minnesota's corn planting was complete, which is eight days behind 2016. Soybeans were 47 percent planted, six days behind last year.
Weather plays a large role in a farmer's ability to plant and often lengthens the process.
"If I had a perfect world and had 10 straight sunny days, I'd probably get it (planting) all done," Dahlheimer said. "But usually you get three or four (good days), then it rains. It's probably a three-week to a month process."
When it comes to planting, Dahlheimer says there's a method behind what goes in first. Still, farmers are largely at the mercy of the weather.
"Small grains go first, because they can handle cooler weather," he said. "They're kind of a grass. In cooler weather, the wheat and the oats will come up and stool (form multiple stems) ... And corn does fine in cooler weather for awhile. But there's a time when summer needs to come. It has to get hot."
For farmers, one of the busiest times of the year is the two-month period from May to July.
"The crop part is pretty intense from week before or after May 1 to after the Fourth of July," Dahlheimer said. "You want to get the crop going, you're hoping you planted it right, hoping the population is right. It all depends on the weather."
Dahlheimer stresses that there is much more to farming than simply planting.
"Everyone thinks it's jumping in the tractor," he said. "That's a third of it, maybe, in the spring and the fall. The other two-thirds is figuring out what you're going to do, where you're going to put your grain in the fall, marketing it, fixing stuff, moving stuff. In the spring you're adjusting and picking rocks, moving trees that fell over."
Farm Service Agency reporting
The Farm Service Agency reminds producers that when they are all done planting, to come into the FSA office and report their crops. If rain makes planting difficult, prevented planting eligibility does not apply until after the final crop insurance reporting dates. Farmers can report prevented planting up to 15 days after the deadline for each commodity. Deadlines are as follows for Douglas County: spring wheat on May 15, corn on May 31 and soybeans on June 10.