SLAYTON, Minn. - Dave Schwartz planted oats and about 210 acres of corn before stopping to avoid germination problems.
"Our agronomist said that if you stop planting 48 hours before a cold rain, you're probably all right," Schwartz said. It was expected to stay cold with snow the week of April 25.
The Schwartz farm has about 1,000 crop acres that produce corn, soybeans, alfalfa and some oats. Schwartz does most of the fieldwork with some part-time help. He's worked to add precision agriculture, adopting auto-steer in his tractors and combine about six years ago, and now has added prescription planting.
"The planter is designed to put on a rate when you go over the hills so it cuts down (on seed), and when you go into heavier spots it increases population," he explained.
Schwartz farms with his wife, Kathy. He said he still enjoys farming at age 73 after milking full time since 1961. "I enjoy what I'm doing, so I stay with it."
The farm averages 180 bushels an acre for corn and 40 to 50 bushel an acre for beans, but in 2016, he managed a crop of over 200-bushel corn and 60-bushel beans.
There were good crop profit years when corn was $6 to $7 a bushel, but now it's about $3, and instead of $12 per bushel soybeans they're $8.50, Schwartz says.
"At these prices, you can't cash-flow anything (that rents for) $175 an acre - it just doesn't work," he said. "There's a lot of (land) rented for close to $300 because they locked it in (multiyear contracts). In my case, I've still got equity if I get in trouble, but these young guys who didn't go through the 1980s, they have a lot of machinery payments, and the pencil doesn't work at these prices."
Dairying provides the "steadiness" to the economics of the farm. Schwartz has two hired workers to help milk about 100 head of cows, and has about 200 head including the young stock. He sells his milk mostly through AMPI plants at Sanborn, Iowa, and Paynesville, Minn.
Schwartz has been on the state board of the American Dairy Association since 1980. It is now combined with the Midwest Dairy Association, which covers 10 states. He has also served on the national United Dairy Industry board.
"We're cautiously optimistic," Schwartz says of the industry's prospects. "We've got cheaper feed, and if we can get some foreign trade going, we'll be okay." Domestically, consumers are increasing their dairy interest.
Schwartz likes to promote milk as the only product with "nine essentials" for nutrition.
"When these kids get flavored milk taken away from them in school, they lose all of those advantages," he says. "That little bit of sugar that's in flavored milk isn't going to do any harm compared to what they get out of the nine essentials. Dairy is the only one with all nine in them."
Here are state-by-state crop planting and condition reports issued April 24 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Only 2.2 suitable field days dropped farmers farther behind schedule for the week ending April 23 - "the fourth consecutive week with less than three days suitable for field work." Only potatoes are ahead of five-year planting averages. Topsoil moisture remains at 99 percent adequate to surplus.
Farmers were trying to apply fertilizer, spread manure and plant when conditions allowed, according to the NASS report.
Only 14 percent of Minnesota spring wheat was planted, compared to an average of 41 percent for this date. Barley was 8 percent planted, compared to 28 percent average; oats, 29 percent planted, compared to 43 percent average. Corn was 6 percent planted, compared to 17 percent average; sugar beets, 32 percent planted, compared to 40 percent average.
Air temperatures were up to 5 degrees less than normal throughout the state for the week, and farmers were held back with cold soil temperatures and sometimes snow, with only 3.1 days fit for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture is 95 percent adequate to surplus. Stock water is rated 96 percent adequate to surplus.
Winter wheat conditions are rated 6 percent poor or worse, 19 percent fair, 70 percent good and 5 percent excellent.
Planting percentages were behind five-year averages for all crops: spring wheat, 9 percent seeded, compared to 22 percent average; barley, 6 percent seeded, compared to 15 percent average; oats, 10 percent seeded, compared to 18 percent average; sugar beets, 30 percent planted, compared to 33 percent average; durum, 5 percent seeded, compared to 10 percent average; Dry edible peas, 10 percent, compared to 12 percent average; potatoes, 1 percent planted, compared to 5 percent average.
Cattle and calves were rated 93 percent good to excellent, with calf losses rated heavy in only 3 percent of the ranches, average for 63 percent and light for 34 percent. Calving is about 70 percent complete, compared to 73 percent for a five-year average. Sheep were 76 percent good to excellent, with 35 percent reporting light death losses.
Farmers were able to plant some small grains and begin corn and soybean planting as near-normal temperatures returned. There were 3.8 suitable fieldwork days. Topsoil moisture is 87 percent adequate to surplus. Stock water supplies are 87 percent adequate to surplus.
Winter wheat conditions are rated 9 percent poor, 35 percent fair, 55 percent good and 1 percent excellent. Spring wheat was 75 percent planted, ahead of the 56 percent five-year average. About 32 percent was emerged, ahead of the 19 percent average for the date.
Oats is 68 percent planted, compared to 60 percent average; barley, 32 percent planted, behind the 38 percent average. Corn was 3 percent planted, compared to 7 percent average; soybeans are 1 percent planted.
Cattle and calves were rated in 85 percent good to excellent condition. Sheep and lambs are rated 77 percent good to excellent, with lambing progress 87 percent complete, just ahead of the 82 percent five-year average.
Warm days, cold nights and widespread precipitation dominated the state. Highs ranged from the lower 50s to the lower 70s and low temperatures ranged from 9 degrees at Scobey to the mid-30s. Crop seedings are behind both last year and the five-year averages. Barley is 30 percent planted, compared to 42 percent average; spring wheat is 24 percent planted, compared to 31 percent average; oats are 10 percent planted, compared to 26 percent average; durum is 10 percent planted, compared to 15 percent average; camelina is 1 percent planted, compared to 15 percent average; flaxseed is 4 percent planted, compared to 17 percent average; safflower is 1 percent planted, compared to 8 percent average; corn is 1 percent planted, compared to 5 percent average; lentils are 24 percent planted, compared to 22 percent average.