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Rain cycle keeps farmers out of field through most of April

By Larry Dallas, President
Douglas County Farm Bureau

I can’t report any progress in fieldwork since the last column. I understand there has been some work in scattered locations around the state, but we have not turned a wheel. Each time we are close to being dry enough to go another rain comes through. The pattern seems to be that we have two or three warm windy days that do a lot of drying but then have another inch of rain. It is sleeting after an inch of rain as I write this, and we are back to square one.

It is not late for planting yet, but we have gotten accustomed to being able to run in early April. Historically, early May was considered the ideal time to plant corn and planting soybeans was somewhat of an afterthought when you had finished corn. Soil temperature was more important than the calendar in the days before the seed treatments we use now. Cold soil, various diseases and insects all prey on the planted seed. Warm soil let the seed germinate quickly and not linger in the ground exposed to the various dangers, Treatments protect the seed in cold conditions and preserve the seed viability until warmer weather. Seed corn has been purchased with seed treatment on it all of my farming career, but it is a relatively new concept to treat seed beans. We plant in soil temperatures that were not considered by the generation of farmers before us and get very good results. More than a few farmers are planting soybeans as they plant corn or even before they start on corn since research shows a very good response to early planting of soybeans

The grain markets are not concerned that the calendar is moving on to late April with only minor planting progress. The usual comment is that farmers have a lot of big equipment and can plant these crops quickly. We can make quick work of planting but more than a couple of drying days are needed for us to start. Last month I talked about the very small amount of fieldwork done last fall. We can adapt in some cases and change our approach to planting but mostly the tillage and fertilization not done last fall will have to be done this spring.

We have been going over all of our equipment readying it for the rush to come. One of our Tuesday morning marketing committee attendees said he wished he knew what the first two breakdowns would be. That way he could address them ahead of time. Nothing is more disappointing than sitting idle waiting on the weather and then breakdown when you do get a chance to work. Often the complexity of our implements mean we can’t fix them ourselves, and you are stuck waiting on a repairman while watching the neighbor make fast progress next to you. We have replaced a couple of tires on a field cultivator so we wouldn’t have trouble with them later on and are having a leaking hydraulic cylinder from another tillage tool rebuilt. Hopefully, preventive maintenance will keep us in the field long before the first breakdown slows us down.

We plant mostly crops that have been genetically modified to resist or tolerate insects, disease or herbicide. There are currently ten of these modified crops. Eight would be considered food crops. This list does not include oranges, but I read recently that genetic modification may be what save oranges as a food crop. Citrus greening disease, carried by a tiny fly, is devastating Florida orange groves. The oranges on infected trees turn hard, green and useless. The tree itself will eventually die. Other efforts of control like killing the flies or quarantining the areas with the disease have failed. Genetic modification so the trees can resist the disease looks like the only method left. Some source of resistance to the disease from another plant will likely be incorporated into orange trees genetically. Testing will begin to determine how effective the resistance is and how it affects the fruit and trees.

The article I read about citrus greening actually dealt more with the possible consumer acceptance of a genetically modified orange. A University of Illinois professor of Agricultural Communications participated in a study of the consumer view of genetically modified crops. Half of the people in the survey were positive about genetically modified food and another 37 percent were neutral on the matter. The article thought most people assume the acceptance level is lower than the survey found because those who do not accept genetically modified crops are more vocal than those who approve or accept them.

The vocal opponents of genetic modification often complain there is not enough testing of these new plants. The testing of genetically modified crops is exhaustive and great care is taken in the testing process. When a company develops a new modification or event, they are also required to develop a test to detect the presence of that event. Unapproved corn plants are placed in plots with large isolation areas around them to prevent pollen drift out of the plot. The combines used to harvest the plots are equipped with grinders to destroy the grain as it is harvested. That way a stray kernel can’t grow next year or the grain can’t be accidentally hauled to the elevator and enter the supply stream. Testing of other crops is no less careful. Not until the government approval of a particular genetic modification will corn or soybeans or oranges be allowed into the food chain.

We really hope to be out on the roads moving from shop to field to field soon. Please be aware of farm machinery when you travel. Our implements are large, slow and not all that maneuverable. Top speed for a tractor and planter is something less than 20 miles per hour. Traveling 55 down a country road, you will close on a farm implement more quickly than you think possible.  If that farmer is getting ready to turn across traffic into a field entrance you can’t even see, a driver can soon be in a situation with no good alternative. Most farm equipment has warning lights and turn signals. Please be aware of those when you are out and about this spring.

Thank you for reading about Douglas County Agriculture this month and, again, watch out for us on the road.

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