2012: Feast Or Famine, Farmers Plan Little Changes

Michigan Musings

"I don't plan any major changes," says Jerry Heck, who grows 800 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans in Monroe County. "I don't make decisions based on one year."

Published on: February 13, 2013

The 2012 growing season was the best of times, and the worst of times, depending on where you are located in the state. An assembly of three growers on a panel underlined that dynamic during Michigan State University Extension's Growing Michigan Agriculture Conference in Lansing, Jan. 24. Yields were bouncing around more than a dozen five-year-old boys in an inflated cage. Devastation and celebration were in some cases defined by only a few miles. And in some cases, it was defined by type of crop. Sugarbeet growers in some areas had high quality beets on one side of the road, and sub-par corn on the other side. When sugarbeets are stressed, they are concentrating all the sugars down in the beets underground. And, yes, that was a very good thing, setting record high sugar content levels in 2012. However, there was no silver lining for corn that doesn't have that luxury.

2012: Feast Or Famine, Farmers Plan Little Changes
2012: Feast Or Famine, Farmers Plan Little Changes

Those with good yields – some even record breaking – were careful not to boast as they too have felt the pain, at some point, of others in the state. The bigger picture, especially for corn, was pretty poor for most below the I-96 corridor and wretched for southwest Michigan.

Moving forward, the common message from growers is "status quo."

"I don't plan any major changes," says Jerry Heck, who grows 800 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans in Monroe County.  "I don't make decisions based on one year."

Dan Cable, who farms on north side of Monroe County and the edge of Wayne County, agrees, "You learn something every year. I don't make decisions on the summation of one year, whether it be great or poor – they're based on a lifetime of experience."

Cable says the growers in his area that were somewhere between "crazy and lazy," faired the best because the later planted corn faired better.

Heck agrees, "The guys who were the last done planting turned out to be the smart ones this year. The timing of when it was planted and when it pollinated made the difference. It was death to corn pollinating during that month of no rain."

George Zmitko of Owosso , who raises cattle, hay, cash crops and seed (grains) on few thousand acres spread out in five counties, can attest to yield swings. "We had our best corn and our worst," he says. "What we've learned is that we need to farm a little farther away – spread our risk. We took about 600 to 800 acres of our worst corn and chopped it for silage."

Heck had his best corn and soybeans in 2011, but that wasn't the case in 2012. "Our rain dance quit working," he says. "We were diligent about scouting because with the weather stress, we wanted to be absolutely sure we were taking away as must pest and disease stress as possible to give the corn its best shot."

Heck says he's installing more and more control boxes on his tiles to be able to control water levels to maximize rain when it does come during a dry season. He also planted cover crops after wheat to capture left over fertility.

Cable brought in about half his corn crop and just shy of average on beans this year. "Mother Nature really smacked us down. But, our tillage in the fall was good and we'll be ready to go this spring."

All the growers talked about rotating chemistries and walking through their fields to keep weed resistance in check.  They also agreed that one of their highest challenges moving forward is over-regulation and over-zealous regulators.