The first round of planting 2019 is finally over for Ashley Andersen and her farming family in eastern Nebraska.
“We feel like we finally can breathe,” she said. “Things are a little lighter around here.”
The key to being done? Knowing when to quit.
“They finally gave up on corn planting,” Andersen explained of her husband Jarett and father-in-law Tim. “We have a river bottom field of 350 acres that is still just so wet. It was the only spot left to put corn, but they gave up that dream.”
So what does a farmer who is done planting do in a year like this? Why, start replanting of course. The Andersen’s will have to re-seed some flooded soybean acres, in between the “mad rush” of spraying herbicide and fungicide in the days and weeks ahead, she said.
In southwestern Indiana, Scott Wallis isn’t quite that far along, but the finish line is inching closer. He still has two-thirds of his soybean acres to go, but corn planting is finally done on his operation near the town of Princeton.
Both farmers expect to lose anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of corn and soybean yields from the late planting this year.
“The big yields we can get out of early-planted soybeans up until the first 10 days of May – they’re long gone,” Wallis said. “On our farm, I’m hoping we’re only down 20 to 25 percent for soybean yield.”
His April-planted corn still has its full yield potential intact, but that’s only half of his corn crop.
“The other 50 percent of my corn acres that we planted the last few days of May and into June, they’ll be down 10 percent to 20 percent,” he predicted.
Ashley Andersen: Blair, Neb.
Where the Andersen’s farm is just northwest of Omaha, the skies have been unusually quiet. Maybe too quiet.
“Two weeks ago, it wouldn’t stop raining,” Andersen said. “Now – I can’t believe I’m saying this – but we wouldn’t turn down rain on most of our acres.”
Their operation got nearly seven inches of rain in the month of May, and as a result, some fields were mudded in. Now those crusty soils and shallow root systems could use a drink, she said.
In contrast, their lone, soggy Missouri River bottom section that missed out on corn planting is still drying out.
“While the field isn’t flooded, there is so much groundwater under it that if you dig a boot in, it immediately fills up with water,” Andersen explained. “But if the river goes down anymore, the field could dry up enough underneath.”
Like so many operations this year, the Andersen’s will have to decide if they want to file for prevented planting or see if they can plant some soybeans there, later this month. Ironically, it is the Andersen’s first year renting this land – or any river bottomland.
“So, this is so much different from anything else we farm,” she said. “We’re hill farmers.”
For now, Tim and Jarett will be moving from field to field, spraying herbicide and fungicides, first on corn, then on soybeans. Ashley will continue playing the go-between-fetching them from the field, delivering food, moving equipment. But the rhythm will be slower, the breaks longer and the work days shorter – they hope.
“For weeks, I really didn’t see my husband,” Ashley said. “They were out super early and in super late. There was always one planter running or the sprayer was running.”
She is very relieved that, with the exception of some faulty electronics on the sprayer, the bulk of the planting season has passed without any major incidents. Their home operation – and 80 percent of their acres – sit near Highway 30, a major thoroughfare connecting Blair to surrounding towns.
“We have rush hour every weekday in front of our house,” she said. “People don’t slow down or stop for equipment. At least once every spring and fall, we hear of someone hitting a tractor or a combine.”
Scott Wallis: Princeton, Indiana
Wallis was replanting a cornfield on June 10, which happened to be his personal deadline for corn planting. That particular field had received nearly four inches of rain immediately after planting, and the stand ranged from 10 percent in the bad spots to 60 percent in the good ones. It wasn’t a hard call to till it back under and start fresh, Wallis said. This time around, he planted a 112-day hybrid, down slightly from his usual range of 114- to 116-day hybrids.
“We’re not going really short on hybrids, because we have a drying system,” he noted. “It can remove 10 percentage points [of moisture], at a rate of about 10,000 to 12,000 bushels in a 24-hour period.”
Wallis took advantage of this latest burst of dry weather (five days) in southern Indiana to sidedress most of his corn acres. Similarly, lousy spring weather in 2015 pushed the Wallis operation to move away from pre-plant nitrogen applications and into in-season applications only. It can be tight in a year like this one, but he expects to get sidedressing done on all his cornfields around the V5 growth stage.
“We put about 30 to 35 units of nitrogen down at planting, and that gets us to V5 without many problems usually,” he added.
Between early burndowns and tillage passes, Wallis is satisfied with weed control in both his corn and soybean fields for now. His soybeans are mostly LibertyLink, but he is also planting some beans with the LL GT27 trait, which will allow for in-season applications of both glyphosate and glufosinate. “Liberty works really well on broadleaves, but it can sometimes be weaker on grasses, so that will be helpful,” he said.
More than anything, this season has driven home how thinly spread his operation is with equipment, Wallis added. Their acreage has grown by 50 percent since 2014, but Wallis, his son and son-in-law still use a single planter for corn and soybeans, and do their own pesticide and fertilizer applications as well.
“With our 60-foot planter, you can plant 250 to 300 acres a day, if you keep everyone out of your way,” he said. “The experts say you need to be able to plant a crop in seven to 10 days. So, now at 3,100 acres, we’re up against it.”
For now, he’s simply grateful they made it through much of the season without any serious accidents.
“Our main place is right beyond a Toyota automobile place, which has 5,000 people working there,” he explained. “Shift change is a nightmare.”
That’s not to say the season’s equipment moves have all gone smoothly. With hundreds of soybean acres left to go, the planter has already gotten stuck five times this year, Wallis noted.
“That’s probably a record for the planter,” he admitted.