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Published April 07, 2014, 09:34 AM

Planting awaits in cooler-than-normal spring

MITCHELL, S.D. — Craig Stehly is running out of winter farming jobs. Stehly, of rural Mitchell, S.D., is anxiously waiting for spring planting to start, but there’s been one major factor that is pushing that back later than usual — the cold weather.

By: Marcus Traxler, Forum News Service

MITCHELL, S.D. — Craig Stehly is running out of winter farming jobs.

Stehly, of rural Mitchell, S.D., is anxiously waiting for spring planting to start, but there’s been one major factor that is pushing that back later than usual — the cold weather.

“I think everybody’s getting anxious,” Stehly says. “Most years, you can at least get outside and do something, whether that’s moving equipment around or picking rocks or whatever. But we just haven’t had the weather for that.”

Stehly says his equipment is ready, and most of his winter work is finished. Now he’s just waiting to be able to hit the fields.

But there is still a bit of time before the normal planting period begins. Stehly says he usually shoots for April 20 to plant his corn, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the bulk of corn planting in South Dakota takes place from May 2 to May 27. Winter wheat planting is usually most active between April 8 and May 12, while soybeans are usually planted from May 15 to June 11, according to USDA data.

The winter will not go down as a historically cold stretch, but the Mitchell area was below normal compared with the 30-year average normal temperature for the months of November through March. This season, the temperature average for the five-month stretch was 22.1 degrees, while the 30-year normal is 26.1, according to Brad Adams, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls. The record low for Dec. 7, 18 degrees below zero, was the only record low for temperatures set in Mitchell this season.

This year has the potential to be a terrific year for soybeans, according to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. The state’s prospective planting report released March 31 says a record soybean crop is expected to be planted at 4.8 million acres, up four percent from 2013. Corn planting is expected to be down 6 percent from 2013 numbers, at 5.8 million acres. Those figures mirror a national trend, as more farmers turn to soybeans as the market’s demand increases.

Projections show South Dakota could be in for a cooler-than-normal April and May, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“When you look at the computer models through the spring months of April, May and into June, those below-normal temperatures kind of dominate things,” says Laura Edwards, an Aberdeen-based climate field specialist for South Dakota State University Extension.

What that exactly means moisture-wise is not completely known, she says. Edwards says it looks like this will be an El Nino year, which typically brings cooler temperatures and wetter-than-normal precipitation levels.

“That’s generally what we see with El Nino and we’re seeing models now reflecting that as well,” she says.

But because there’s been lower-than-normal snowfall around the state before the March 31 snowstorm in the northern and western parts of the state, there’s been some concern about drought. Edwards doesn’t foresee that being a problem, especially if projections of a cool, wet spring come true.

“If we get cool temperatures that should do a lot to ease drought concerns, even if we don’t get a lot of moisture because those cool temperatures will help reduce water demand,” Edwards says, adding that a hot, dry summer was what made things particularly difficult during the 2012 drought.

“We may get a slow start in the fields but I don’t see that being anything that can’t be overcome,” she says.

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