Farmers and ag businesses prepare for spring planting season

Amber Burke
Wisconsin State Farmer
As warmer temperatures creep into the state of Wisconsin, farmers continue to prepare for the spring planting season.

As warmer temperatures creep into the state of Wisconsin, farmers continue to prepare for the spring planting season. However, those preparations could vary depending on field conditions and how much work growers were able to invest into their crops last fall.

"Overall, in northcentral Wisconsin, we were blessed to have a great fall, which provided an early harvest that resulted in a bumper crop," said Craig Oemichen, of Short Lane Ag Supply in Colby, Wis.

In other areas of the state, there was a more varied weather pattern in the summer and fall of 2021. Sam Knott, director of US Crops/Central Region for Atticus, LLC said, "Some areas of the state remain dry and other areas that were wet, remain wet. Yet overall, the average acreage remains in good shape."

Fall 2021 

Due to stable weather conditions in the fall of 2021, there was a record number of input applications and fall tillage taking place, said Oemichen, who operates the ag-retail business along with his brother Matt. "In addition, a lot more winter wheat was planted than we typically see, due to the good weather and higher commodity prices."

With higher input prices on the horizon, some farmers were able to perform fertilizer applications last fall.

Mark Anderson, a grower in Fort Atkinson was able to capitalize on the dry field conditions last fall. "Because we had such mild weather, I was able to get in all of my fall fertilizer applications. At this point, I am getting equipment ready, and if it stays dry, we should be able to get in the fields earlier than usual."

Any regions that might still be wet, "there will still be some work to do," Knott said. "If growers weren't able to get into their fields last fall, they might be looking to do an early spring burn down for residual control. Due to the fact that there is a very tight supply, and high demand for fertilizer products, farmers might have to decide between burn down versus tillage due to high input prices."

"Those fortunate enough to complete that extra field-work in the fall will be able to reduce their fertilizer consumption and this will allow for a faster planting," says Oemichen. "And, the lower snowfall we have received this winter could reduce flooding, so I don't foresee any major concerns moving forward." 

However, due to increased fertilizer, fuel and labor costs, there are some mixed emotions going into planning the spring crop season. Knott sayrecommends, "The best way to set our crops up for success is to start clean from a weed control perspective, including the proper use of fungicides and insect pressure. A good sound agronomic plan is always recommended."

Be that as it may, farmers are cautious going into spring planting and are reviewing their risk-management strategies to protect their income. For example, Anderson says he typically utilizes phosphorus and potassium fertilizer applications fairly aggressive in the fall. However, pricing on those products were much higher than normal, so he didn't implement that practice this year. "Traditionally I have kept fertilizer levels high, so I was able to scale back a bit. Although, I will have to make up for it next year."

Oehmichen hopes that the higher prices will be short-lived. "Extreme pricing will kill demand. So far, we have not seen many changes in purchasing from our customers. However, its still too soon to know the extent of how these price increases will change farmer practices."

Knott suggests that with the cost increases, especially on fertilizer and chemicals, it is important to stabilize every pound of nitrogen. "Nitrogen is essential to plant growth and development, so a strong nutrient management plan can help decrease the chance for nitrogen loss. If you don't have all of your herbicide needs accounted for, plan for a proper burndown and layer in the right residuals for better success. Also with record high corn, soybean and wheat pricing, investing in micronutrients should produce a good return on investment."

Other opportunities for farmers to optimize income over expenses are locking in early on inputs, confirming sales agreements with grain marketers and discussing insurance options with your local provider.

Finally, Knott says, "Weather can change on a dime, but when you prepare your crop with proper nutrition, as well as weed, disease and insect control, you can set yourself up for success."