Rain hampering spring planting

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By Leslie Moore



Unseasonably cool temperatures and frequent, steady rainfall in recent weeks are taking their toll on area farmers anxious to finish spring planting.

In Taylor County, corn producers are especially suffering from unwanted precipitation. According to Pat Hardesty, Taylor County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, at the end of last week, only 20 percent of the expected No. 2 yellow corn crop had been planted.

“We’re running behind on corn right now,” Hardesty said. “It’s funny what a year’s difference makes, because this time last year, most people were through planting corn,” Hardesty said.

And with corn, delayed planting can quickly lead to profit loss. Each day after May 15 that the corn is not planted, Hardesty said, producers should prepare for a 1-percent yield loss.

Local grain producer Tyler Reynolds says that corn planted after the first of June “never seems to yield right.”

Reynolds said he has been fortunate this year because, along with his father, Mike, and another farmer, they have been able to get about 80 percent of their 2,000 acres of corn planting finished.

He said he knows other local corn producers are a lot more behind.

“Actually for the year, we’ve done pretty good,” Reynolds said. “What’s happened is usually if things go like you plan, which they never do, your workload’s spread out so it makes it easier on us, but with the way the weather’s worked out, our workload’s kind of condensed.”

For most grain producers, as soon as their corn is in the ground, it will be time to get started on soybean planting. “So besides losing yield potential on their corn, it also delays their planting on full-season soybeans, which a lot of times can reduce that yield potential also,” Hardesty said.

Shawn Wright, horticulture specialist for University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, said if corn planting is delayed any further, some producers might decide to give up on corn and just go straight into soybean planting.

“There are no easy answers here,” Wright said. “Farmers sometimes have to make the most difficult decisions of any business person, because they’re at the mercy of Mother Nature, as well as economic constraints and everything else.”

Wright said producers will have to think about what is in the best interest of their operation, and even then, “Mother Nature may throw a monkey wrench in it anyway.”

At Reynolds Farms, if corn planting was delayed further, Reynolds said going straight into soybeans would not have been an option because they have already sprayed the ground and put down fertilizer for corn.  

And though the Reynolds run a larger-scale farm, they say that smaller-scale farmers run into the same problems they do. “We’ve gotten along pretty good, but when I say that — we caught a dry spell — I looked at the dates and we planted from [April] 15th to the 18th,” Reynolds said. “Well, in that time, instead of planting and quitting at a decent hour, one night there we planted till one o’clock. So you have to run longer hours, and that’s when it starts making for a long season.”

During last year’s favorable growing season, Reynolds said, things went much smoother and they were finished planting soybeans around the first part of May. But because there is still corn to be planted and more rainfall possible today through the weekend, Reynolds said it could be the week after next before they can start on soybeans.

And more rainfall can be detrimental, even to the corn that has already been planted.

“Once they get the corn in the ground, you don’t want extreme drought, but the primary reason roots grow are to seek out moisture,” Hardesty said.

If the ground stays fairly dry, Hardesty said, the plants will have good root establishment which would be valuable during the drier summer months. But if the ground stays wet, there will be no opportunity for an extensive root system to develop.

“Then when you get into the hot days in July, dogs days of summer in August, you don’t have as good a root system extended out to gather up the moisture like you would whenever it’s a little on the drier side in May though June,” Hardesty said.

Reynolds and Hardesty agree that once corn is in the ground, there are several things that need to happen to ensure a good crop yield this fall.

“With corn and soybeans, ideally you would like to have an inch of rain a week,” Hardesty said.

Hardesty said tobacco, which producers will begin planting soon, is a dry weather crop, so it doesn’t need as much rain, but there are times that it becomes critical.

Reynolds, who has a plant and soil science degree from UK, said temperature also matters.

According to Reynolds, pollen can’t handle 100-degree weather, and that’s why even after a promising planting season, the corn crop suffered so much last year.

Dr. Tim Coolong, vegetable specialist and associate extension professor for UK’s College of Agriculture, said the rainy season has also adversely affected vegetable farmers throughout Central Kentucky. “We are late for several of our crops,” Coolong said. “We’re in the same boat with some of the spring cold crops, broccolis, greens and cabbages, if people didn’t get planted already, it’s pretty much too late for those now.”

And even vegetable farmers who manage to have good crop yields after planting late are not immune to trouble.

“The big thing with vegetables is Kentucky is on a wholesale market,” Coolong said. “The later we plant, the shorter that window gets where we have a decent market.”

In this part of the season, rain and colder temperatures pose serious problems for all types of crops.

“You get a little nervous when it gets as cold as it did [Sunday] night because our wheat is flowering, and if it gets down to around, I think it’s 30 degrees for a couple hours, it kills it,” Reynolds said. “It sterilizes it and then you don’t have wheat.”

Though Hardesty said farmers are not experiencing a crisis yet, the situation could lead to that if current weather patterns continue.

“The last two or three years, we’ve had dry summers, and so I hate to ask for dry weather here,” Hardesty said, “but we could really use some sunny days.”