Area farmers looking for fields to dry enough  to begin spring planting 

Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle Nathan Trunk, stands in front of a farm field with a little standing water in Greenbush Township in rural Princeton. He farms with his father Tom Trunk.
Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle
Nathan Trunk, stands in front of a farm field with a little standing water in Greenbush Township in rural Princeton. He farms with his father Tom Trunk.

After going through one of the wettest Aprils in Minnesota, farmers in the greater Princeton-Milaca area are waiting for the weather to allow them to get into their wet fields to plant.

This was also one of the cooler Aprils, like last year when it was colder than normal and wet.

University of Minnesota Extension Educator Dan Martens and area farmers agree that there is still time for getting the corn and soybeans planted on time. But Martens and one farmer also noted that the spring planting deadline is slipping away for small grains.

“We don’t grow a lot of small grains (in this area),” said Martens, whose Extension Educator territory covers Benton, Stearns and Morrison counties. For those farmers who do plant small grains such as oats, each day that their planting takes place after April 25, the yield drops 1 percent, he said. To counteract that, a farmer must plant 1 percent more seed of small grain each day, and when it gets to be after May 10, it’s difficult to get a yield, Martens said.

Dean Hanenburg, who raises steers and grows crops northwest of Princeton not far from the Mille Lacs County line, plants oats. He noted how the cool and wet weather has shortened his time for planting them this year. Hanenburg, on May 1, said it had been raining for about a week straight. The oats should have been planted in April and April is gone, he added.

Hanenburg needs oats because he starts his young steers out on a combination of oats, corn and pasture grass before winter, when he switches them over to corn.

Hanenburg’s plans this year are to plant 30 acres of oats, have about 50 acres of hay and have the rest (about 380 acres) planted half in corn and half in soybeans. His acreage is big right now because he is also farming the land that his brother, Roy Hanenburg, has, whose time is now taken up with teaching and coaching.

Dean Haneneburg speaks fatalistically about farming and its variables of weather, the cost of seed, fertilizer, fuel, equipment and the price a farmer gets for their product. He noted that he makes all his planting decisions before March 1 because of the deadline to get crop insurance. When a person signs up to farm, he said, they have to get insurance to hedge against the many possible outcomes. A farmer “is in a box and you do the best you can,” he continued. “You’ve got to do it no matter what.”

Regarding April being gone and having none of his oats planted, he said he hasn’t given up yet on planting them this spring.

A farmer starting out

Nate Trunk, of rural Princeton, turns 23 on May 20, which is close to the deadline for planting corn in this area. Trunk went to college to study agriculture and since about eight years ago has been working his way into his partnership with his father Tom Trunk on their hog and crop farm in Greenbush Township.

Nate speaks enthusiastically about farming and has committed to the area by finding a home nearby for himself. As he spoke on May 1 about the growing season ahead, he said he was eager to get into the fields to plant, which will be half in corn and half in soybeans, just like last year. Water stood in spots of one of their farm fields near Tom Trunk’s house. But Nate said he was confident that in a few days their clay-loam ground would be dried out enough to begin working it and then start planting.

The Trunks have been preparing for that. On May 1 they replaced digger shoes on a piece of equipment called a soil finisher, used to work up the packed soil surface and smooth it for planting.

Nate brought up his grandfather Bill as a guide for knowing when to plant. Bill, for plenty of years, didn’t get into his fields until May 19, Nate said, and added, “I’d still consider planting corn up until the end of May.”

Tom Trunk noted that genetics research and development have improved corn seed in recent years, especially in the yield, to help get the most out of the growing season. There have also been advances for soybeans, but that has been much slower, he said.

Martens said that if area farmers don’t get their corn in until May 15 or 20, they can expect to get about 95 percent, “or what we consider good yields. We’re not at a place yet (on the calendar) where we are losing a whole lot of yield yet. It starts to drop off more rapidly when we plant after the 15th or 20th of May.”

Martens also said it will be interesting to see how the market will respond if the corn planting delay continues. The price of a commodity sometimes rises if commodity traders anticipate a decreased harvest.

Just how nervous some farmers get as the planting dates are delayed sometimes depends on how long the person has been farming, Martens said. A longtime farmer has gotten used to seeing certain parts of their fields showing water during extra wet times, he said.

That still “doesn’t make it fun or easier,” Martens said.

Farmers, meanwhile, are “geared up” and when the ground is ready “we can get a lot of corn planted in a week,” Martens said.