How do farmers deal with spring planting weather changes?

Posted: March 14, 2022

We are at the mercy of weather. We have to wait until field conditions are right to plant. If planting is delayed due to weather we may have to change seed varieties or shift crops.

Temperatures are warming, the snow is melting, and everyone is thinking spring! For grain farmers, this means preparing for the planting of the new crop.

We have spent countless hours planning over the winter. Fertilizer and crop protection products have been selected and purchased. Seed has been researched, selected, and a careful plan has been created to match the variety to its best suited field environment. Equipment is being brought into the shop for tune up and maintenance.

These are all things we can control.

But what about the weather? Weather is the ultimate wildcard in farming. We have control over so many variables but ultimately, we are at the mercy of the weather. Too little or too much rain can be devastating to a crop at any point in the growing season. A storm or tornado can come through during the summer and destroy everything we worked to establish in minutes.

We spend all winter making this beautiful plan to starting planting on April 20th in 55-degree Fahrenheit soils and have a warm gently rain come the day after we put the planter in the shed. Planting is typically a bit more complicated than that. As the time to plant approaches, we check weather forecasts religiously and keep a close eye on soil temperatures as they rise (and sometimes fall).

At planting, current soil moisture and temperature is important as well as future soil moisture and temperature. The seeds need an environment that is conducive to germination. We can plant into a perfect seed bed with moisture below the surface and warm soil BUT if we get a cold pounding rain a few days later, it can undo all our hard work! Driving rains can create a crust on the soil surface making it difficult or even impossible for seedlings to emerge. Or cold, saturated soils can lead to a host of seedling diseases. Early in the planting season, when we have a little “spare” time, we may choose to hold off on planting if one of these cold rains is on the horizon. Sometimes the seed is just safer left in the shed.

If weather concerns delay planting too much, farmers may have to make the difficult choice to change their master plan. Different varieties of a crop take different amounts of time to mature – just like your garden tomatoes. Farmers may end up switching to the “early girl” variety to ensure maturity and dry down in time for harvest. Acres may even shift from corn to soybeans, depending on the year.

Another factor to consider is the frost that loves to sneak up on us the middle of May. Or a flash flood. If all has gone according to plan, seedlings are already out of the ground and thriving. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything we can do to protect our baby corn and beans from frost or flood. Sometimes re-plant maybe necessary. If only parts (usually low areas) of a field have damage, we can carefully drive down the rows and replant those areas.

Spring can be both a very rewarding and stressful time on the farm. It is an all hands-on-deck time of year! Please have patience with farm equipment on the roadways and don’t forget to wave at your neighbor in the planter!