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Slow winter....slow spring?

Kacey Birchmier Updated: 02/18/2014 @ 3:55pm Agronomy & Conservation Editor for Successful Farming and Agriculture.com. I grew up on a fourth-generation farm in central Iowa. Follow me on twitter - @KaceyBirchmier.

Planting season must be around the corner. On Thursday, the USDA is scheduled to release its first detailed data on farmers' planting plans. To get an idea of how farmers are preparing, here are a few thoughts from central Illinois farmer Greg Knoblauch, and Dave Mowers, consulting agronomist with AIM for the Heartland.

Agriculture.com: What are you concerned about as you prepare for planting in 2014?

Knoblauch: There are a couple things I’m very worried about. One is soil moisture. Every year we dig soil pits to do research, and last fall there was a very large gap between soil moisture and subsoil moisture. I know we have gotten a little bit of rain, and, of course, all the freezing and thawing, but I’m almost positive that those two haven’t connected together. We definitely need some decent rains this spring.

My plan is to farm for drought conditions. That may change if we get 5 inches of rain in March, but at this point in time, the long-range forecast is showing average rainfall and average to slightly-below-normal temperatures.

Mowers: I’m worried about the moisture in the Corn Belt. I think we came into this winter really short of soil moisture. It froze up so fast this winter. I’m afraid there’s going to be little retention of the moisture that’s sitting on top of the ground; I think it’s going to run off immediately. We are going to have to recharge our subsoil moisture supply. It could be challenging for us.

Agriculture.com: Will you be adjusting your nutrient-management plan?

Knoblauch: I’m a little more aggressive with nutrient management compared to some folks. First of all, I strip fertilize. I put my nutrients in the strip, especially for corn, and then I broadcast fertilizer for my soybeans. The reason I do the strips is because they are much more efficient in drought conditions. Even when we get rain, it’s not a big deal. When we are in drought conditions, it keeps the plant from having to work really hard to find the nutrients it needs. Because of those programs, I’ve been able to achieve equal to or ahead of my county yield averages all the time.

Mowers: Right now, the situation here in Illinois is we got considerably less fall nitrogen (N) applied than normal. I’m hearing some retailers say they only got 50% of their fall ammonia applied. That really concerns me. That’s going to be underscored by the propane shortage we’ve had. We’re going to see some additional problems. I think the price of energy is going to go up, and that’s naturally going to bring up of the price of all fertilizer products and probably chemicals as well. Inputs aren’t going to retract prices at the same speed as the market prices.

There will be a lot of sidedressing, and a lot of switching over to liquid N sources. But, it’s still going to be a problem. With the lateness of any kind of outlook for thawing out, we’re going to start late, even if it thaws before the first part of March – which doesn’t look very possible.

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