By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The weather finally took a turn for the better as more spring-like temperatures returned to the region over the last two weeks, prompting farmers to ready themselves for planting crops.
By this time last year much of the planting had already taken place, thanks to an unusually warm early spring. This year has been just the opposite, with winter hanging on well into March and still prevalent in much of the upper Midwest.
The latest crop planting intentions from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Kentucky field office reported the state’s soybeans, wheat and burley tobacco should be on the upswing this year, while corn will be off from 2012 numbers. Hay acres for harvest are also expected to be below last year’s level.
According to the report: “Farmers in Kentucky intend to plant 1.6 million acres of corn, down 50,000 acres from 2012. Soybean acreage in Kentucky was expected to total 1.5 million acres, up 20,000 acres from the previous year. Burley tobacco growers in Kentucky intend to set 78,000 acres for harvest, up 4,000 acres from 2012. Farmers in the state intend to harvest 2.25 million acres of all hay, down 130,000 acres from 2012.”
Chad Lee, a grain crop specialist with the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture, said at this point they are nervous about getting everything planted.
“Everybody feels like they are late or behind and certainly, when you compare it to last year, we are definitely behind,” he said. “But if you compare it to 2011 or even 2009, we are pretty much on pace with those two years.”
In those years, Lee said farmers here were behind the five-year planting average but both seasons saw good statewide yields. “While I certainly understand the nervousness about being a little bit late on planting, I still think that there’s a chance we could end up with excellent yields, just based off of what we’ve seen in two of the last three years,” he said.
Though farmers had a head start last year, severe drought affected most crops, especially corn. Total corn production for 2012 was estimated to be off by more than 40 percent, compared to the previous year. Some bushel-per-acre estimates were off by more than 70 bushels, better than half from 2011 – and that was with about 230,000 more corn acres planted in 2012 than the year before.
Soybeans and burley tobacco fared much better, with tobacco seeing an increase in poundage last year. Winter wheat planted last fall totaled 680,000 acres, an increase of 100,000 acres over 2012 and the largest seeding since 1998, according to the NASS report.
The only saving grace for corn farmers last year went to those who planted extremely late. Lee said right now, with the rains of last week, fields will likely be a little wet and farmers must fight the temptation of getting into those fields too soon.
“If nothing else, that will be part of the mantra: Wait for those fields to dry out. Don’t mud a crop in and get yourself further behind,” he advised.
Lee pointed out with the latest report of planting intentions, 50,000 fewer acres of corn isn’t much, but he is surprised it is down at all. “My assumption is it is because maybe some farmers didn’t have insurance and they’ve chosen not to go in with corn this year. Aside from that, I know the farmers that had insurance felt like their revenue was pretty well protected last year,” he said.
“Most of those individuals aren’t skittish on planting corn this year. That number is a projection and it really depends on the next three weeks. If the next three weeks have pretty good weather for planting corn, then we’ll see those numbers or a little bit better on corn.”
While last year wasn’t stressful for planting, the drought turned things in a hurry so in many ways, even with the colder start to spring, farmers may be in better shape weather-wise as a return to near normal conditions continues.
Projected weather for the state indicates another rain system moving in toward the end of this week and colder temperatures coming back, at least for a couple of days.