Planting Decisions, Right or Wrong

Musings of a Pig Farmer by Larry Sailer

This spring has been one of the most challenging in the 40 years that I have been farming!  With dry soils in March, we were optimistic that spring planting would be early.  Some of us were even concerned whether we had enough subsoil moisture to make it through until the spring rains arrived.  Then April Showers began to fall, and we experienced the wettest April on record for 141 years.  We haven’t had many days without precipitation, and the week of June 5th was the wettest on record in Iowa since July 2010.  As a result, the spring 2013 planting season (#plant13 on Twitter) is the most drawn out one that I’ve experienced.

I took this picture this morning after dropping kids off at bible school. This is the erosion that is happening due to all this rain.

If I would’ve known then what I know now, I would’ve made different farming decisions.  (Hind sight is always 20/20, right?)  I started planning my 2013 crop last fall when my ground was extremely dry.  To conserve soil, save time and fuel, I had been farming no-till for several years.

Years of no-till also meant that my soil was becoming compacted.  During the dry year, I could definitely see how compaction – which resulted when heavy equipment was driven across my fields to erect the wind turbines – affected plant growth and yield.  I could tell that around the turbines the plants’ roots couldn’t grow down, so those plants weren’t able to reach the moisture needed.  Deep tillage is the cure for compaction, so I chose “to make lemonade” during the dry fall.  I tilled to break up the soil and give the 2013 crop’s roots a chance to grow down into the soil for moisture and plant food.

Other decisions that I made last fall include:

  • The number of acres to plant to corn or beans (crop rotation);
  • Fertilizer needed to feed the growing crops;
  • Weed control programs;
  • Seed selection; and
  • the list goes on and on!

Thanks to Mother Nature, I’m now facing some of these same decisions again:

  • Do I switch relative maturity on my corn?
  • Should I switch from planting corn to beans?
  • Should I even plant at all?

Today’s farmer must “farm the government.”  What I mean by this is a farmer must know all the rules and regulations that modify the way we farm to stay in compliance with the law.  Sometimes this is extremely difficult to do because some rules are so vague that they’re interpreted differently by the various people charged by the government to in force the rules.

In addition to my crop concerns, thoughts of my livestock and family weight heavily on my mind:

  • What new viruses might my pigs get?
  • What fun memories can we make with our grandkids, who are here this week for their annual Bible school visit?
  • When will I find the time to move the horses?  (That reminds me, they really need vaccinations including worming medicine.)
  • When will it ever stop raining?  Soil is washing away!
  • How can I better manage my ground?
  • When is the first ISU football game, and how are Devin’s shoulders healing?
  • How is Jesse getting along the blood clots in her leg?
  • Oh no, when do I leave for Romania and the Ukraine?
  • Will I ever get the lawn mowed?!
  • When will be a good time to build that waterfall Janice has been wanting?
  • Which should I do first, finish remodeling her laundry room or building the waterfall?
  • Maybe I should go out and pick up all those rocks I pulled out with the ripper.  Wait, I can’t do that yet because the fields are just too wet.

With all these thoughts racing through my mind, I’m beginning to feel a lot like the pig who was given a pancake!  In case you’ve never read that classic children’s storybook, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, written by Laura Numeroff, I’ll share a brief excerpt to give you an idea:

If you give a pig a pancake, she’ll want some syrup to go with it. You’ll give her some of your favorite maple syrup, and she’ll probably get all sticky, so she’ll want to take a bath. She’ll ask you for some bubbles. When you give her the bubbles…

Back to thinking about planting… Should I stop planting corn with only 10 acres left, or should I switch to beans?  Research shows you can get decent corn yields through mid-June, but according to the insurance programs, I should switch crops.  Right or wrong, government policy will make some of these planting decisions for me!