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Soil moisture level changes planting strategies

The race is on for XtremeAg’s Lee Lubbers, Dan Luepkes, and Chad Henderson. Planters are rolling, wheat is growing, and rain is in the forecast. The Dakotas are in desperate need of rain to keep enough moisture in the ground. In Alabama, Chad is waiting for his ground to dry out, and in northern Illinois, Dan has wrapped up his planting.

Lee Lubbers - Gregory, South Dakota

Lee and his brother began farming in the 1980s during some of the toughest times for farming, but the lessons they learned still shape them today. 

It’s never boring in the West River region of South Dakota. We went from straight freezing every morning for two-and-a-half weeks to where it finally warmed up enough to start planting corn and soybeans in the last week. Then just when we got started, we were greeted with a few more mornings of freezing temperatures.

Our wheat suffered a bit from the cold mornings in some of our fields. Lucky for us, our wheat is seven to 10 days behind where it usually is at this point, and the growing point was still below the soil surface when the cold hit us again. If the wheat had already jointed, the damage would have had a more severe effect on yield. Instead, we are seeing some dead leaf tissue and leaf burn.

Map of drought conditions in high plains
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Drought in the Dakotas is no joke. We’ve talked to people in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana this week, all with some grim situations. We have been lucky to be able to get our crop into moisture due to our no-till approach. But we still dropped our seeders a notch deeper than normal to firmly lodge that seed into the moisture zone. If we had tilled our ground ahead of our planters and seeders, we’d be in a much uglier situation. They tend to do more tillage east of us, and they’ve got a lot of crop lying in the bone-dry ground right now.

The race is on as we run flat out to get seed into moisture before consistently warmer temperatures dry everything out. It’s a challenge, but growers to the north of us are in much more dire circumstances than us. Staying positive, staying safe, and “git’n ’er done” in South Dakota.

Dan Luepkes - Oregon, Illinois

A fifth-generation Illinois farmer, Dan was raised on a small, 200-acre dairy farm. After the family got out of milking cows, he picked up a few small farms and continued to grow, eventually saving enough money to buy challenging, low-productivity, sandy farms that no one else wanted.

We have had perfect conditions for putting seed in the ground, but the dry ground has forced us to plant a little deeper (2.5 inches) to reach moisture. We did get a .5 inch of rain last week, which helped raise the soil’s moisture profile.

It’s been a great start to the season. Almost everyone else around is done, some for more than a week now. Putting in all the trials for XtremeAg has added extra days to planting, but in the end, we will gather valuable information from these trials that we can report to our members. It’s all about real farmers sharing real results. We finished planting this past weekend, and I have corn that has emerged after nine days. That is a great start for northern Illinois. Stay safe.

Chad Henderson - Madison, Alabama

A fifth-generation farmer, Chad farms over 8,000 acres with his dad, son, and nephew as a part of Henderson Farms in northern Alabama. Chad grows corn, soybeans, and wheat in what had been mostly a dryland environment until 2012 when he added the first irrigation systems to Henderson Farms.

Corn growing in Alabama
Photo credit: XtremeAg

Our first planted corn is anywhere from stages V2 to V4, and we are about to begin our herbicide applications. Corn planting is three-quarters complete. Our river bottoms are still too wet to plant but should be ready to go soon. The forecast is calling for anywhere from 1 to 2 inches of rain this week, and that will determine when our corn planters start rolling again.

Wheat growing in Alabama
Photo credit: XtremeAg

All our wheat applications are completed, and the crop looks pretty good. It’s always hard to judge yield numbers, so we will just wait and see what happens at harvest in June. Once we are done harvesting wheat, our double-crop soybeans will be planted.

Soybeans growing in Alabama
Photo credit: XtremeAg

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