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Planting time frustrations

Agriculture.com Staff 02/06/2016 @ 5:15pm

In my 34 years of full-time farming, the most frustrating times always came at planting time. Being a dryland farmer in the hills of Eastern Nebraska, it seemed as if conditions were never ideal for getting the seeds into the ground.

Even when it was not too wet or too dry, the irregular topography made for slow planting progress. If the weather was wet, I worried about slow planting progress. If it was dry, I worried about not having enough precipitation to raise a crop.

When the year was over and I looked back at the growing season, it was hard to see a correlation between planting conditions and yields or prices. My experience tells me that there is seldom a price rally caused by either too wet or too dry conditions.

The worst year in my career for planting was 1982. That year, I did not turn a planter wheel until June 1. I had the fertilizer on by the end of April and was ready to begin planting. I ended up planting all of my corn the first week of June. You would think that planting that late would have caused market reaction. It did lower my yields considerably. However, the high price for the year was in April, as it typically is.

The trend was down from there until September. That was one of only two years when there was no weather rally during the summer.

Other years when planting was very late were 1974, 1984 and 1995. In 1974 and 1995 prices did eventually rally, but it was because of drought during the summer. It could almost be said that the wetter the planting season, the drier the summer! In 1984 I began using no till to plant and I got my corn planted in time. However, most farmers around me were still planting in June. That year the price peaked in May and June, but crashed following July 4.

Three years stand out in my mind for being excessively dry at planting. In 1977, we got just enough rain at planting to get the seeds germinated. However, there was no subsoil moisture so when it turned hot, the corn died just as it was tasseling. Also, 1989 was a very hot planting season. Maybe I remember it because it was the last year I used a planter tractor with no air conditioning. The crops germinated, but were barely able to hang on with the small amount of rainfall we had. Then in late June, the rains came and the rest of the year was normal. Prices were high in April, but went down the first week of May when temperatures approached 100 every day. That was another year when the July 4 weekend turned out to be critical. The weather moderated and prices dropped the rest of the summer.

It was so dry at planting time in 2000 that the soybean seedlings began to wilt shortly after they came up. Just as everyone was about to give up on the crop, the rains began. At my place, it rained 15 inches in six weeks. That was the other year besides 1982 that there was no identifiable weather rally. The price trended down throughout the summer.

It is futile to hope for better prices based on planting delays.

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