Ground Work 2021: Cool, Wet Kentucky Weather Slows Progress

The rains that started coming in late April have continued. Heavy rains, along with ongoing cool temperatures, has made this spring challenging.

We finished planting our corn on May 18. But because some of the seed sat in cold, wet conditions for an extended period, we had to replant about 40% of our cornfields. We finished replanting on May 22. At one point during planting, we received 20 cm, or 8 inches, of rain over 7 days. This type of weather pattern has continued, as we got about 5 cm, or 2 inches, of rain in 2 days at the beginning of June. But even while planting, we paused to celebrate one of our son’s birthdays.

The cool, wet weather has slowed the development and maturity of our winter wheat. The crop appears to have a very high yield potential right now, but harvest is still at least a couple weeks away. We expect to be at least a week behind average by the time wheat harvest starts.

We plan to plant soybeans as soon as we possibly can after our wheat is harvested. However, our double-crop soybeans will likely get a late start.

The heavy rain has reinforced the value of the work we do to improve and maintain features that protect our fields from soil erosion. Even freshly installed, we saw field tiles, or underground tubes that help water drain, catch basins that direct surface water toward tiles, and filter strips help protect our fields right away. For example, one day we got a downpour of more than 7.5 cm, or 3 inches, of rain in 3 hours. These features held and served the fields well, reinforcing why we make investments in protecting soil in our fields.

Even with the rain, we have had plenty to do. Many people don’t realize that because farming is a business, we have many business activities that require time and attention when we aren’t in the fields. We keep detailed records of all the inputs we use in fields, and we collect lots of data from our fields. We study and review that information and the markets to make sound business decisions.

For example, during rainy days at the beginning of June, we repaired a tractor, hauled soybeans to market, met with four different input suppliers and continued caring for our pigs.

Regardless of field conditions, the pigs remain steady. We breed sows, care for baby pigs as they are born, and wean older pigs every day. We also grind corn and other ingredients like soybean meal, vitamins and minerals into feed for the pigs between rain showers. As a family, we are participating in a social media campaign this summer intended to reassure consumers of healthy meat choices.

When field conditions allow, we are applying liquid nitrogen fertilizer to the corn. As the corn grows, we are applying herbicide that includes both immediate control of emerged weeds and residual control of future weeds. We typically spray the corn when it is 20 to 30 cm, or 8 to 12 inches, tall.

Though we are side-dressing the corn with nitrogen now, we also rely on the nutrients from pig manure to fertilize our corn fields. We recently hosted our state’s secretary of energy and environment on our farm to explain how we recycle those nutrients to grow corn to feed the pigs.

It has been good to see strong prices and opportunities for both grain and livestock. Current markets are an unbelievable contrast with what we saw just 12 months ago. The past 12 to 18 months have been challenging in many ways, reinforcing the tremendous uncertainty of market prices.

Strong markets encourage us as we manage the challenging weather conditions. Temperatures are warming up, helping the wheat mature and bringing us closer to harvest and planting double-crop soybeans.

At the same time, our sons keep growing as they participate in the day-to-day work on the farm. We celebrated all three of them with a joint birthday party!

Caleb Ragland

U.S. Soybean Farmer

Kentucky

Caleb Ragland and his wife Leanne farm with his father and brother near Magnolia, Kentucky.