The spring planting season will soon be here—unless it’s a repeat of last year, when crops were periodically planted in two- to three-day windows in May and June, and even drifting into July. Farmers will be challenged again with a full spectrum of work to do when conditions turn warmer and drier and spring planting begins.
With the wet and cool weather last fall and the resulting late harvest, a number of issues developed for farmers. Under ideal conditions, most farmers prefer to apply fertilizer in the fall for the next year’s crops. This is especially true of nitrogen fertilizer for corn. In the fall of 2008, nitrogen applications in the form of anhydrous ammonia were reduced due to the delay in harvest, and this past fall, nitrogen applications were reduced even further with an extremely wet and cool October. It’s estimated that only half of fertilizer normally applied in the fall was actually put on the fields. There will be numerous hours logged by fertilizer trucks and applicators this spring that were collecting cobwebs this past harvest.
On a positive note, fertilizer prices have scaled back considerably from their incredible highs, which peaked in early fall of 2008. Anhydrous ammonia and diammonium phosphate (DAP) nearly reached $1,200 a ton during that time frame, but have now settled back into the $400 to $500 range. Potassium, which is the third major nutrient of corn and soybeans, reached nearly $1,000 a ton in 2008, but has since stair-stepped below $600 a ton and is expected to continue to decline.
Instead of heading downstairs, the price of corn and soybean seed is on the escalator going up. As new traits are added to today’s seed, the expense of research and technology adds to the cost. Farmers are paying between $200 and $300 for a bag of corn and $40 to $60 for a bag of soybeans. It wasn’t too many years ago that corn priced over $100 a bag was very expensive. One bag of corn will plant three acres and a bag of soybeans typically plants one acre. Even with the high cost of high-tech seed, it still provides a more efficient plant in producing higher yields.
This spring, many farmers will face the fact that a higher amount of tillage will need to be done due to muddy conditions at harvest last fall. As the calendar flipped one wet day at a time in October and November, nervous farmers had no other choice but to drive their combines, tractors and auger wagons on wet fields. The result was deep tire tracks creating ruts in the field that will need to be leveled out this spring.
The cold snaps we had during the first two weeks of January and towards the end of that month were actually beneficial in a number of ways. For those farmers who still have crops to harvest, the freezing temperatures made it easier to harvest the remaining acres. The cold temperatures helped break up the soil compaction that did occur in the fields that were already harvested under wet conditions, which created the rutted fields. Cold temperatures also help to keep some of next year’s overwintering insects in check.
Fertilizer application and extra tillage passes are two jobs that are usually not in the time management equation for many farmers when the planter is pulled out of the shed. We need a more typical weather pattern for April and May so the farm community can get back on track to a planting and harvesting calendar that is more in tune with the seasonal calendar. We will soon find out if that happens. iBi