The precarious nature of timing planting

Mychal Wilmes recalls times when planting and the early growing season was interrupted by wild weather.

Planting difficulties -- or problems after planting -- are not uncommon in the region.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek file photo

We talked on a gravel road on a dreary, cold day when it seemed planting was a long way off.

“I think I’m going to plant spring wheat," Gary said, adding that its price was good and might get better considering the upheaval caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war. “Bedding is worth a lot, too."

Dad, who planted winter wheat and alfalfa with oats as a companion crop, used a grain drill that was once pulled by horses. He wrote planting dates on the lid of the wood seed box. The informal diary documented mid-March planting dates along with late April and into early May.

He said that small grain yielded better when snowfall covered it after emergence. The snow, he said, boosted yields because it added nitrogen.

I recall that some older Czech farmers in the county spoke about the legend of the Three Kings, who were also called the Three Frozen Kings. Their feast days are celebrated on May 12, 13 and 14. The story goes that the three — Pankrac, Servac and Bonifac — went fishing on the sea one day. When the temperature suddenly dropped, they were frozen solid. On May 15, they were rescued by Saint Zofle, who saved them by pouring hot water over them.


mychal wilmes.jpg
Mychal Wilmes

The legend was and still is a reminder not to plant gardens and fields too early.

The Three Frozen Kings were of little use on May 1-3, 2013, when record snow fell across southern Minnesota and parts of Iowa and Wisconsin. Significant snowfall in May is not uncommon in northern Minnesota, but the amounts seen in the southern region broke records that stood since 1938. More than 14 inches of snow fell in many counties. Planters that were used the day before were covered in snow along with fertilizer carriers and other equipment.

The spring was much colder and wetter than normal. Trees that would have already been laden with leaves hadn’t reached past the bud stage, which was a blessing because otherwise more damage might have occurred.

Farmers faced an impossible task — many acres would not be planted before prevented planting took effect. Prevented planting occurs when an insured crop is not planted before the final planting date, which prevents the acreage from receiving full insurance coverage.

The ag department ultimately determined that 3.16 million corn acreage reached that threshold in Minnesota and North Dakota along with 827,131 acres of soybeans and 1.4 million acres of wheat.

The regional disaster ultimately had little impact on commodity markets. The corn price fell from $7.50 per bushel in January to $4.50 in November 2013 and the soybean market deflated from $14.40 at the start of the year to $12.70 by November.

Many farmers scrambled to find cover crops for unplanted acreage. Allowing land to grow nothing for a season would lead to reduced yields the following year and raise soil erosion issues. Some planted oats and triticale and other mixtures to feed livestock.

Despite the miserable 2013 spring, the record prevented planting acres across the country was set in 2019, when 19.6 million acres were recorded.


There won’t be any prevented planting in my garden this spring, thanks to part to grandson Elliot. He is fired up about planting — at least when it comes to hot peppers.

“I want to plant ghost peppers," he said.

I thought it is more important to plant peas, lettuce, and tomatoes, but Elliot says ghost peppers are more important than these. I didn’t know what a ghost pepper is until he explained what they are.

“They are about the hottest peppers known to man,’’ he said, adding that the heat generated is ranked by something called the Scoville Scale.

Ghost peppers are ranked third hottest on the list — only behind Carolina Reaper and something called Pepper X. We will plant a couple, though prevented planting just might save me from gastronomical pain.


Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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