Time to Change Plans?
By, Dan Steward
Here we are well into May with a great deal of spring fieldwork yet to be done. Since things rarely seem to go as planned in farming, here are a few pointers to consider as you dodge raindrops to get the crops in.
Dos and Don’ts to coping with this year’s weather:
- Don’t be inflexible. Your cropping plans for the year are just that: plans. Plans can always be changed based on new information. Here is some new information: rain seems to keep coming and the date on the calendar keeps getting later and later. This past winter was very hard on alfalfa stands on marginal ground. This was likely due to the wet weather starting in the fall and assisted by the freezing and thawing leading to heaving March. Now is a good time to evaluate your stands.
- Do consider delaying seeding fields until the summer or next year. With very few seedings planted, this is a very viable option to consider. If you have not already fall-killed or rutted up the hay fields you planned on putting to corn, you may want to leave them in hay and not seed any fields. The other option is to summer seed fields. Fall-killed wet, heavy ground fields are also candidates for seeding instead of corn. The advantage to picking this strategy is that you decrease your spring fieldwork by a significant amount and likely keep the same hay yield potential on your farm. The disadvantage? It will set your rotation schedule back another year.
- Do plan on applying nitrogen on grass stands. Many farmers were able to get nitrogen out on their grass fields without rutting up the fields too badly. Many did not. Assuming it gets dry enough to get across the fields in the next week, it will still pay to spread nitrogen. It is likely that some yield has already been lost due to the shortage of N. However, grass puts on the majority of its yields as it approaches maturity and will still respond to N. Keep your planned N rates the same. If the nitrogen is not taken up on this cutting, it will be available for the second cutting. If fields get dry enough, plan on applying N up to approximately May 10th. (Maybe even later if you are at a high elevation on wetter soils.)
- Don’t put in your haylage too wet. Since this is not the first wet spring in the northeast, we can learn from the past. A similar year in the mid-90’s, the grass grew like you would expect in a wet year, but when it came time to harvest, it was still wet and overcast and the cut hay just didn’t dry. By feel it seemed dry, but the koster tester didn’t lie; it was still wet. Those who ignored the tester put up a lot of wet, butyric haylage that year. Coupled with the low sugars due to lack of sunshine, and the high lignin due to the cold, wet weather, not much milk was made on that haylage. You are better off having high NDF forage that cows will eat than a bunk of unpalatable slop.
- Don’t mud in your corn. The harm caused by plow or a tillage layer and/or sidewall compaction is irreparable. You are better off putting in corn 10 days late, then mudding it in.
- Do try to trade in your long season grain hybrids for shorter season corn. It’s not too early to consider switching to shorter season hybrids for grain. The decision for silage or high moisture corn fields can probably wait until the end of May. If the seed is not already in the ground when you receive this newsletter, grain growers should probably back off by five days in hybrid maturity, and another five if planting is delayed until early June. Also, consider switching from corn to soybeans. If your silage or high moisture corn planting is delayed until early June, consider reducing the maturity. As previous years’ data shows, there is usually no yield hit to staying with long-season hybrids right up until June, but often harvest has to be delayed by 2-3 weeks, or grain moisture will be much higher.
- Don’t miss this great opportunity to get your equipment ready. In other words, try to find something positive out this frustrating spring.
It has been frustrating, but we have to do the best with the hand we are dealt. In 2011, patience was aptly rewarded. That year had an exceedingly wet May allowing only 24% of the corn to be planted in NY by the 22nd and 43% by the 29th. But then conditions turned exceedingly dry from mid-June through July before the drought was relieved in August. That year, the long-season corn planted in late May or early June yielded by far the best because it wasn’t mudded in. As a bonus, it didn’t silk until the first week of August when the drought was relieved. The earlier planted corn silked in the middle of the drought and had pollination issues.