03/10/14 — Farmers: Cold, rain need to go away soon

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Farmers: Cold, rain need to go away soon

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 10, 2014 1:46 PM

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Farmer Paul Daw, right, talks about his tobacco plant seedlings with Tyler Whaley, Wayne County Cooperative Extension Service field crop agent. Cold, wet weather is keeping farmers out of their fields and has put them behind schedule in tending to their wheat crops and preparing the land for tobacco transplanting.

Tractors and equipment that should be out in the field are instead sitting idle or are in farm shops for repair and maintenance as farmers wait for milder and drier weather.

The bitter cold and its mix of rain, snow, sleet and freezing rain that has built upon already wet fields has made it difficult for farmers to apply fertilizer and to perform field maintenance on their wheat crops.

"It is so cold outside we are getting the equipment in the shops and going through it -- getting them ready to get into the fields so when the day comes, maybe we will have all of the bugs out and we can go," said Paul Daw of Daw Farms Inc. "That is what we are doing and what most farmers are doing also -- getting planters ready and tractors ready.

"I would think that we are two weeks behind schedule. Whenever the weather does break, and we are able to get in the fields, we are really going to have to take advantage of it and do as much as we can."

In farming, timing is everything regardless of what the crop is, said Tyler Whaley, Wayne County Extension Service field crop agent.

"When the conditions improve, we are going to have to go hard at the wheat crop in terms of topdressing (applying nitrogen), preparing tobacco land and that is right around the corner," he said.

Once that happens farmers will be putting in long days, Daw said.

"Farmers are actually buying additional equipment to try to catch up for when the weather does break to catch up on where we should be," Daw said.

Until that happens, farmers are staying busy, Whaley said.

"They are in the (tobacco) greenhouse right steady," he said. "When they can, they are taking soil samples. They are getting those analyzed. They are getting recommendations for the upcoming year. They are attending our production meetings that we have had in January and February."

How much of a delay the farmers will have depends on where the farm is located in the county, but the wet fields are consistent countywide,Whaley said. It also depends in part on planting dates and other factors, he added.

Daw said he has about 26 acres of wheat that are "not looking too good."

"The main thing out there now is our wheat crop," Whaley said. "As you ride throughout the county, you will see that it has the rainbow-like effect and the leaf tips will be burned. That is a good indication of cold injury. Really and truly, if we get some warmer sunny days, the wheat will be fine.

"Really, the main thing is getting out there and topdressing their nitrogen, putting fertilizer to the crop so that it can produce grain. That is really the main thing."

The "big talk" around the county is field condition, Whaley said.

"They are just abnormally wet," he said. "They can't get in the field in a timely manner like they should. We had a few days last week where they could get out in the fields and row them up a little bit, but they have no other choice at this stage of the game. They have got to get out and fertilize their crop as soon as possible.

"The wet fields have been the issue dating back to last June. It has never really dried out, so to speak. You have to look at it this way, the 2013 crop was late coming out of the field therefore it backed their planting dates up for this wheat crop so it is a little later than what it normally is."

Acres planted in wheat this year are expected to stay flat, and maybe be even a little less than last year's record crop of about 42,000 acres, Whaley said.

"Grain price have come down a little so that has maybe pushed our acres back a little bit," he said. "Also, the field conditions -- some wheat, I think, just didn't get planted on time due to the wet weather. There might be a little less, but there is still a lot of wheat grown in Wayne County."

Wheat is normally planted as early as the last week of October, but the majority is planted from Nov. 1 to Nov. 15. Some growers have planted earlier and others later, on up to Thanksgiving, Whaley said.

It is difficult to say what effect another blast of cold weather would have on the crop, he said.

"We are in that window where the crop is switching to reproductive growth," Whaley said. "March 15 is a critical time. We call it growth stage 30 -- that is when the grain head starts to form. So now we are getting into a window where it is critical that we especially get the fertilizer out there. That is the No. 1 priority for the wheat crop."

Right now the crop is "just sitting," but hopefully once there is some warm weather, it will grow, Whaley said.

The weather has affected tobacco as well, he said.

"I think we are 10 days to two weeks behind," Daw said. "That will be fine. It is still too early to tell about that. It is just the field work right now is where we are concerned -- getting in the field. Here it is March, and we should be cutting land, tilling, but it has just been so wet we have not been able to get into the field.

"If it would stay dry and warm for a week, we could catch up. But that has got to happen. Last Sunday it was 70 degrees and I told somebody, 'If we could get a week like this, we could catch up.' But it doesn't seem to want to do that. But that is the life of a farmer. We know that. We take it like we get them."

Daw tends about 150 acres of tobacco.

"This is tobacco greenhouse season," Whaley said. "A lot of our growers seeded around Valentine's Day, that is the typical planting date. You have some who seed earlier than that, and you have some who seed later, but most of growers, about the second or third week of February will seed greenhouses."

Whaley anticipates about a 3 percent increase in tobacco acreage. Last year farmers planted between 10,000 and 11,000 acres.

"We are a dominant player in the tobacco industry," he said. "We are right here in the heart of it. That is because tobacco, the price is good right now.

"There is demand for tobacco, but the limiting factor, I think, with our tobacco growers, is barn space. Our growers are pretty much maxed out to the limit in terms of barns, how much space they can put in at a time."

There are some multi-year grower contracts, but most are for single seasons, he said.

It is tough to go out and invest in tobacco barns when you don't know the situation from year to year, Whaley said.