Planting season shortened

BY DANIEL SEIDL | APRIL 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa farmers could spend less time in the tractors planting crops and more time in the combines harvesting them this year.

According to a study published earlier this month by the Useful-to-Usable Project, the number of days suitable for planting in Iowa has dropped by roughly half a day per week over the past 20 years, while the number of days suitable for harvesting per week has risen roughly the same.

“I don’t put a lot of stock in predictions,” said Roger Zylstra, the president of the Iowa Corn Grower’s Association. “I don’t know that it would have a very big effect.”

One possible explanation for this is climate change, said Iowa State University agronomy Professor Richard Cruse.

“The soil’s wet more frequently and for longer periods of time, which would reduce the amount of time available per week for seeding,” he said. “For the fall, because you’re getting less rainfall, [there’s] more [time to harvest].”

While the change seems small, Cruse said the averages aren’t very accurate, and in some years, this shift can be felt much more.

Area farmer Steve Swenka said he has noticed the change in recent years.

“The last couple of springs have been real nip and tuck,” he said. “Every time the conditions were good enough to get to the field, we would get another wet stretch.”

However, this year is looking to be much better for planting, Zylstra said.

“This year, right now, we’re actually quite dry,” he said. “We’re in a moderate drought here and have been since last July.”

While recent years have been manageable, Swenka said if the rain lasts too long, it can have significant effects on crops.

“What’s really adverse is when you get into a wet pattern,” he said. “The conditions don’t get dried out before another wet pattern. If you get real late planting … you’re definitely losing yield potential.”

Though the lower planting time is problematic, Cruse said the longer available time for harvesting can be beneficial for farmers.

“From the farmer’s economic perspective, the sooner you can get the crop out of the field, the more secure you are in terms of having an income,” he said.

The longer harvest and dryer fall conditions allow farmers to adequately dry their crops.

“You can leave your corn in the field a little longer to naturally dry,” he said. “If you’re having a good fall and the crops dry naturally, that’s a real money saver for farmers.”

If the fall isn’t as dry, Swenka said, farmers might need to buy drying apparatus, which could cost up to 25 cents per bushel — or an average of roughly $39 per acre.

Predictions point to this kind of trend continuing, Cruse said. However, Zylstra disagreed.

“I’ve been doing this for better than 30 years, and in that period of time, I don’t know that there’s any trend that I could say I’ve seen,” he said. “Every year is different from the other years.”

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