Farmers need relief from rain

Tribune-Star/Austen LeakeDrenched: Wet conditions in the Wabash Valley have delayed some farmer’s planting plans. 

With dry skies forecast for several days this week, Wabash Valley farmers are eager to get into the fields to plant corn and soybeans.

Rain has delayed planting for much of Indiana and the Midwest this spring.

And timing is everything. The prime planting window to maximize corn yield in much of the state was April 20 to May 10.

Since that window is now shut, corn planted between May 10 to May 20 typically produces fewer bushels for each day planting is delayed. The per acre yield typically decreases even more after May 20.

“We have not planted the first seed. Honestly there is not much planted between here and Evansville,” Brad Burbrink, an owner in BE N AG Family Farm in southeast Vigo County, said last week as rains continued.

“We are optimistic that the 6-to-10 day forecast is for some drier weather coming in, and if we can miss some showers or get less measurable rainfall, then maybe we can get into the fields and get planting,” said Burbrink, who farms 6,000 acres.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports just 3 percent of corn in Indiana was planted as of May 5, compared to 37 percent last year and a 35 percent average over the past five years. At the same time, just 1 percent of soybeans have been planted in Indiana, compared to 20 percent in 2018 and a five-year average of 12 percent by May 5. Soybeans, however, can be planted as late as early June.

Last year’s planting season also started slow, but was followed by a two-week period in early May when about 60 percent of the state’s corn crops were planted.

“My fear now is we have been above normal participation since about the first of November, and it always balances out,” Burbrink said. “So I am fearful that by July or August, we will be needing some rain. That is probably the pessimistic of me,” he said. “The positive thing is the sub soil and the soil in our clay soils is fully charged, so we are going to go into the [growing] season with moisture.”

Terry Hayhurst, who is entering his 35th year of farming at Hayhurst Farms, said the rainy spring “has been frustrating as we all want to get out there and gets this [planting] done in a timely manner,” he said.

He farms 1,400 acres in southern Vigo County.

Losing days

While Hayhurst has experienced delayed planting before, the later getting seed in the ground has the potential for higher drying costs at the end of the season at harvest. His farm has clay soil that retains moisture, which could delay his planting even more.

“We are losing our growing degree days, on corn especially,” he said. “The later we end up planting, if we leave the same day length hybrid [seed] that we are planting, usually what it does is make the grain wetter in the fall and we have to spend more money to dry,” he said.

As an example, Hayhurst said in 2009, a lot of crops in the Wabash Valley were not planted until late May or early June. While farmers still had decent crop yields, that year brought a cool summer and moisture level in corn was high, causing farmers to have to spend money to dry the crop.

“We have been spoiled,” Hayhurst said. “We get so much crop planted so quick now, that under normal conditions we don’t usually have to struggle much with drying. So when we run into one of these years where it is less than ideal planting time, [farmers] do not have the capacity to dry at the rates that they need to, so that slows down harvest.

“Then also what we can run into, especially on the droughty soils, is the fact that the heat and dry weather will affect the yield more if [corn] is pollinating in August instead of July,” Hayhurst said. “We don’t have any idea what it will be this year until we get there. There are too many variables.”

Vigo County farmer Frank Miklozek agrees.

When starting a crop year, Miklozek said, “you can’t say the year is better or worse, you can only say it is a different year. You never know what will happen.”

Miklozek may have a jump on several farmers as he already had 125 acres of soybeans planted earlier this week. He farms 1,000 acres from Corey to Prairie Creek in Vigo County.

“Most of our ground is tiled so we are able to get some stuff in the ground...but for the heavier soil ground we need some drying days,” he said. “We don’t have all the fertilizers on for the corn. We still have to put the ammonia on. There is a lot of ammonia that needs to be put on but the rain has been too heavy,” he said.

When planting crops, Miklozek said, “optimum yield will be the first priority,” looking at the growing time and weather conditions.

Watching the calendar

“If [planting season] gets late enough, we will look at switching to some corn hybrids that have a shorter [growing] season. If it gets later,” into June, “then we will look at soybeans. We will just have to see,” he said.

“I don’t consider this terribly late. We have had a couple years where we have planted later than this and had exceptional yield, but I would not say that is the rule,” Miklozek said.

Miklozek points to May 20. It’s a date he thinks grain markets are also eyeing.

“Farmers can plant a tremendous amount of product in a few days,” he said, “and have good yields later [in to the fall]. I think the [grain] market is looking at May 20 and we are not to May 20.”

Until then, Miklozek said he expects little change in corn prices or expectations on crop yields.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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