Favorable weather means state farmers more ready for plantingThe warm, dry winter has been a welcome break from harsh conditions for most South Dakotans.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The warm, dry winter has been a welcome break from harsh conditions for most South Dakotans.
Farmers, though, aren’t just sitting back and enjoying the weather. They’re getting ready to roll.
Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, said he expected to see ground being worked in late February and predicted some wheat will be planted in late March.
“I believe there could be — it all depends on snowfall,” Sombke said.
“I was on the farm all day yesterday with my sons, and everyone’s getting the bug real quick,” he said.
Sombke and his sons farm about 2,400 acres near Conde and are involved in other businesses. He said it’s been a wonderful winter and one farmers were due.
“Farmers have definitely paid in advance for this winter,” he said. “I’m looking forward to another one like it.”
Sombke said the previous three years, winters hit hard and early, making fall field work difficult. It also made moving harvested crops to town a pain.
But this open, warm and dry winter has been a blessing.
Fertilizer is being spread on ground, he said, and tile work is being carried out to drain wet spots in the ground. It’s been a remarkable experience to see tractors in fields in winter.
“It is, it is,” he said. “Normally, we have frost pretty deep in the ground this time of the year. The fields are pretty well prepared for this spring’s work.”
Sombke said while the long-range forecast looks promising, he’s aware there are no guarantees.
“It could change a lot in March,” he said.
But he said the “wheat belt” in central South Dakota may see farmers planting seed in March.
Darrell Davis, an Ipswich farmer, will assume the presidency of the U.S. Wheat Association this summer.
A fifth-generation farmer, Davis works land with his sons. They have completed a lot of work this winter that normally wouldn’t get accomplished, he said.
“You just get a lot of jobs done,” he said. “You aren’t moving snow to get to feed all winter.”
Davis said he feels spring wheat will be planted in March, likely in the central part of the state.
Davis said that has happened before, but not very often.
Sombke said he’s not too concerned about a lack of moisture.
“No, I don’t think that’s too much of a concern,” he said.
Sombke said a man he knows digs graves and reported a layer of frost in the ground. That’s a telling fact, he said.
“You can’t freeze the ground without moisture,” Sombke said.
“I am concerned, however, that some of these stock dams are low and aren’t getting the runoff,” he said.
But he said many cattle producers have switched over to rural water systems in recent years so they are not so dependent on rain and snow for water.
Scott VanderWal, a rural Volga farmer, is the president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau and another farmer pleased with the warm winter of 2011-2012.
“We’re going to need timely rains this spring, but as far as conditions for planting, it will be very good,” VanderWal said.
A lot of wet spots that weren’t planted in the past few years have dried up, he said.
Farmers have done tiling this past fall and this winter to help drain those areas. Some land will be productive for the first time in years, VanderWal said.
Sombke said he has heard from farmers who said they are looking forward to planting and working their entire fields this year.
VanderWal said this winter has been a good time for machinery work and other preparatory efforts. When the time is ripe to plant, farmers will hit the ground running, he said.
“There’s been some areas where farmers have got some field work done,” VanderWal said.
Now, some rain in the next few weeks would be ideal, he said.
“We could plant, but we need timely rain,” he said. “One to 2 inches per week for corn is what is called for once it’s in.”
VanderWal said winter is also a time for financial decisions.
“We do a lot of marketing and planning for next year,” he said. “Marketing is a year-round task with the high stakes we deal with.”
Costs vary, but farmers spend anywhere from $500 to $700 per acre to plant corn, he said. They invest in the seed, fertilizer, fuel, machinery and crop protection such as herbicides and pesticides.
Planting corn in an 80-acre field could mean an investment of $56,000 or more, VanderWal said.
“It makes risk management extremely important, because you have so much money involved,” he said.
About a decade ago, the cost was around $230 per acre, VanderWal said. So while people note the strong yields and record prices, they need to be aware of the increased risk, he said.
VanderWal said another positive side of this warm winter has been the lack of weather harming cattle.
They can be outside in fields or in feedlots. There have been no reports of wide-scale losses due to blizzards, as has happened in the past.
Gene Stehly, who farms in Davison County, said he plans to have his corn seed in the ground April 20.
Stehly said farmers are raring to go, with much of their advance work done.
“The Corn Belt has never been so ready to plant as it is this year,” he said.
The fact that corn is bringing $6 a bushel is an added incentive, Stehly said.