Ready, Set, Wait…to Plant!

Hoosier Perspectives

This season starts out on a different tact than last year.

Published on: March 25, 2013

They say you can wait a day and the weather in Indiana will change. It's certainly a no brainer that if you wait a whole year the weather will change. Bill Johnson, a weed specialist at Purdue University, says Lafayette had four 80 degree days in March, 2012. There's barely been a half dozen days above 50, if that high, this year. No two years are the same.

But that led one Newton County farmer to say recently that 'abnormal is now normal'. In other words, you never know what to expect.

It was a pretty good bet we weren't going to see a March like last year. The deviation from normal on the warm side for the average temperature for the month was not only the biggest in history, it blew the next closest variation from normal away. It may be another 70 years before we see a March like that one.

Not everyone will be unhappy about that. It set up fruit trees for blossoming too early and getting nipped by a frost in April. It set farmers up to plant too early, only to see some of those crops set back by frost. Even if they recovered, they tended to pollinate during the hottest, driest time of the year.

There's a Dr. Suess book called Wacky Wednesday. I read it to my kids when they were little. I almost know it by heart. Everything is out of whack on wacky Wednesday. Shoes sat on the ceiling, not the floor. The bed had three legs instead of four. You get the drift.

Last year was wacky 2012. This year will have its own challenges. Right now you might guess it will be a wet spring with fewer working days. The temptation will be to work soils wet. At some point, as Purdue University's Gary Steinhardt says, working wet and creating soil compaction may be a cost of doing business. We're not there yet by any means. But it could be a decision some have to make later. Last year the biggest decision was whether to go ahead and finish planting crops in April.

Those who did tended to pay the price. A neighbor who planted in mid-May had some of the best corn around. He gets mad when I say he planted late – he was just later than everyone else. Last year it probably gained him 60 to 80 bushels per acre over his neighbors. Remember it was wacky 2012.

The history of this year is being written as we speak. Planters are ready to go when soils are right. Waiting for that window may be the challenge this year. This time the lower soils that had corn last year may be the spots that drown out, and the higher ground that burnt up in 2012 may bump up the average. All you know is that this year won't be like last year.

By this fall, we'll be assessing which of the two years turned out better for you. For some, surprisingly, it may be 2012. But they're likely to be the exceptions.

But that's what makes farming interesting. Happy farming!