Warmer Weather on Tap

4/9/2011 10:00 AM

Conditions Should Improve for Field Work

Chris Torres

Staff Writer

The first official day of spring was March 20. But short of a couple days that have been warm and sunny, it’s been pretty cold and wet.

Now it looks like the warm winds of spring might be here to stay — at least for a week.

Accuweather is calling for sunny days next week with temperatures hovering between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

It will be a welcome sight for farmers itching to get out and get fields ready for spring planting. But it’s a far cry from last year, when temperatures in early April were already in the 80s and farmers were planting corn, at least in Lancaster County, as early as April 10.

“The thing that’s normal about it is that things are really different,” Jeff Graybill, an agronomy educator with Lancaster County Cooperative Extension, said laughing.

The unfavorable field conditions have pushed a lot of field work back. Small grains, including wheat, barley and rye, are well behind schedule, he said.

Reports taken from the April 4 USDA crop progress report shows field work essentially nonexistent across the state.

But Graybill is not too concerned yet.

“I don’t think we’re behind the eight ball, but we’re later getting manure out,” he said.

Getting manure out is key, especially in no-till, he said, because you have to allow time for manure to dry out before planting.

As far as planting field crops, Graybill said it is too early to tell if there will be any sort of impact on timing and yields. Farmers usually start planting in late April or early May. It is best to plant when soil temperatures are above 50 degrees. But getting out early can be risky, he said, because constant freezing and thawing can damage crops.

One positive thing he has seen from the harsh winter is that winter cover crops are looking pretty good.

“Five weeks of snow cover was good for a lot of crops. I think the wheat came through the winter and looks really good,” he said. “You can get a lot of good nitrogen as a result.”

This year could be a return to “normal” for fruit growers in Adams County. Lee Showalter of Rice Fruit Co. in Gardners, Pa. said the cold weather has actually helped to keep buds in check thus far.

Buds had been emerging early the last couple of seasons, but later cold spells have led to some damage in orchards.

He said the cold spring has made it hard for some growers to get their protective sprays on. But pruning is basically done, and there is plenty of moisture in the orchards.

“Last season was an early season. The buds pushed out early. We went through some peaks blooming. It will be normal timing this year,” Showalter said. “We’ve had adequate moisture. We’re in really good shape.”

A harsh winter in Tioga County has Sherri Butters, executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency office in Tioga County, concerned about field work and how it will impact later planting.

“At the rate we’re going, they won’t get into the fields for a long time,” Butters said.

It’s been cold and snowy across the northern tier recently. It takes longer for the heavier, rocky soils in the area to dry out, she said.

Farmers in her area have been fortunate the last couple of years, she said, because of early springs and dry weather.

“We’ve had two or three really good years. Yields have gone up,” she said.

But she fears this year could be different.

“I’ve been here for 20 years and I would say at least half or two-thirds of those years, they have been in fields in April. This year, I doubt that will happen,” she said. “They all have faith though. That’s what makes them farmers.”

Andrew Frankenfield, agronomy educator with Montgomery County Cooperative Extension Office, said he has seen very little field work but that’s fairly normal this time of year.

“We have heavier, wetter soils here. We’re usually further behind. This year is not an exception,” Frankenfield said. “Farmers have seen many seasons come and go. We’re not too concerned yet.”

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