With early snow melt, farmers need rain to continue in April

OSCEOLA COUNTY — It may be too soon to say spring has officially sprung, but area farmers are gearing up for planting season which, is just around the corner.

For now, the ground is clear of snow and Mecosta and Osceola County farmers are surveying their land as they prepare for what comes next, said Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension grazing and crop management educator.

“First, right now, we are advising farmers to check their perennial crops, such as alfalfa, which grow through the winter,” Lindquist said. “With the open winter we’ve had, there is a risk of damage.

“Farmers will look for spots that are slow to green up, which could indicate some injury. This will let them know if the crop will be able to be harvested this summer.”

Wheat fields also could have experienced some injury with the very cold temperatures, Lindquist said.

The early loss of snow cover is a big concern, but adequate precipitation going forward will be key, he added.

“We want to see more showers and rainfall in April so we go into the spring planting season with adequate moisture,” Lindquist said.

With warmer temperatures forecast for the coming week, oats and potatoes could be planted in the first part of April if conditions continue, Lindquist explained.

“Most of the planting will take place in May, though,” he said. “Corn, soybeans and alfalfa will be in May. We usually tell farmers late May to avoid any possible late frost. You don’t want to plant too soon.”

Lindquist reminds farmers to be patient, not rushing and planting early even if it seems spring arrived a little ahead of schedule.

“One concern is it could be a dry spring because we lost the snow so early,” he said. “That can be turned around quickly and right now there’s adequate soil moisture. How things turn out just depends on the showers we have coming up.”

In a report issued in February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the preliminary value of all Michigan field crops produced in 2016 was $3.14 billion, down 4 percent from 2015.

With the exception of soybeans, the value of all individual field crops in the state fell from 2015, the USDA’s Great Lakes Regional Office said.

In Michigan, most commodity markets aren’t too favorable at this time, Lindquist said.

There is an ample supply of corn, wheat and soybeans, so things aren’t looking too strong, price-wise, he said. There’s also quite a bit of hay in the U.S.

“The prices probably won’t rally and look to stay in the mediocre range,” he said. “If they do, there could be marginal profitability for hay farmers as well.”

While local farmers may have an abundance of hay from last year, farmers in Kansas and Oklahoma have been devastated by recent wildfires, resulting in them losing their homes, cattle, hay and more.

Throughout the country, farmers have been banding together to help their fellow farmers, said Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension grazing and crop management educator.

The Kansas Livestock Association is organizing hay and fencing material donations for delivery to affected areas in Kansas. In-kind donations can be made by calling (785) 273-5115. Cash donations can be made by visiting kla.org/donationform.aspx.

The Oklahoma Cattlemen's Foundation also is accepting and coordinating donations. Checks can be sent to P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148 and should be made payable to Oklahoma Cattlemen's Foundation, with "Fire Relief" in the memo line.

Online donations can be made at okcattlemen.org.

In-kind donations for hay can be coordinated by contacting Harper County Extension Office at (580) 735-2252, and donations of trucking services can be coordinated by contacting Buffalo Feeders at (580) 727-5530.