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Shelby’s farmers say that they typically plant near the end of April, so they’re not too concerned about the spring crop season yet, but if the weather stays rainy and cool it could be a different story.
“It’s not a big concern right now, but if it stays wet and cool for another two weeks, it will be,” said Paul Hornback, who is planning to put in 2,400 acres of corn and soybeans and 100 acres of tobacco.
Hornback, who also is the Senator from Shelby County’s 20th District and chair of the Senate’s agricultural committee, said he is ready for this year’s crops.
“Of course, I’ve got the greenhouses all seeded [with tobacco] and they’re doing fine,” he said.
While Hornback says he is staying cautiously optimistic, he admits that the tide could turn the other way.
“In farming, we kind of have to adapt to whatever Mother Nature gives us,” he said.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Andrea Schoettmer said that what nature has in store next week should make farmers happy.
“I can tell you that we have a frost advisory for Shelby County tonight [Wednesday], but after that things should warm up and get no colder than the low fifties [at night] next week,” she said. “But any further out than next week, I don’t know.”
It’s that uncertainty that some farmers, like Tom Flowers, who will be planting 20 acres of Alfalfa next week, said makes him a little nervous.
“The ground temperature is just plumb cold,” he said.
The thing is, he said, the weather needs to stay warm and dry for at least several days before planting can be done.
“We got plenty of moisture, we need some dry weather now so we can work these fields, and it takes longer to dry out when its cold than when you have plenty of sunshine,” he said.
“Mainly, we start getting drier weather in June, July and August. You want to get your crops in so you can take advantage of all the spring rains that you have, and that went very well last year,” he said.
“The thing is, August is a critical month. If you can get your corn ready by the end of July, that’s a pretty fantastic feeling.”
Flowers said that if planting were delayed into May, farmers would be hurting.
“It’s the yield, that’s what takes you where you need to be,” he said.
“The biggest concern right now is the wheat fields. These wheat fields were planted wet because we had a wet fall, and it was cool, and some of them didn’t get to where they needed to be, and now they’re coming up and there’s a lot of wheat fields that are going to be destroyed or burned down and put into corn or soybeans this year.”
He said he would spend the next few days getting things in order.
“We’re still cleaning up the farm from winter, we’re still feeding hay out here,” he said. “It’s not winter, but it’s still winter mode out here. We had snow yesterday, for crying out loud. It’s a cold, wet spring right now, and until the temperature comes up in the ground, there won’t be a whole lot happening.”
Jim Ellis, who is preparing to sow 1,000 acres each of corn and soybeans, shares Flower’s opinion that the ground is still too cold for planting.
“We anticipate starting Monday if it doesn’t rain – there’s a forty percent chance – but the weather is supposed to get warmer, not only in the daytime, but at night,” he said. “We’re trying to get the soil temperature between fifty and fifty-five before we start planting – it has to consistently above that.”
Said Ellis: “We’re not late yet, it just depends on the weather,” he said. “Last year, it was so wet that we ended up planting three or four weeks later than we normally would have. If I knew what that [weather] was going to do, I could go to Las Vegas and win a lot of money. If it stays warm, you’d like to plant for a week and get some rain and plant for another week and get some more rain; that would be ideal. So we’ll just have to see.”
Fruit crops suffering
Walt Reichert, horticulture extension agent for Shelby County, said that cold temperatures have already taken a toll on some fruit crops and even some trees and other plants.
“It’s probably too early to tell; it looks like most peaches got zapped earlier in the year in the winter,” he said. “If apple or pear trees were in bloom [when it snowed], they might be OK if they were planted high, if they were planted in low places, then probably not.”
Reichert said the low temperatures of 20s on Wednesday night have been very detrimental to some trees and flowers.
“Flowering trees, the magnolias just look like wedding cakes that were left out in the rain,” he said. “Dogwoods are probably OK, but daffodils and tulips took a pretty hard hit. There’s a beautiful yellow magnolia on Main Street, and now all its blooms are brown.”
As for vegetable gardens, Reichert said that Monday’s snowfall does not seem to have harmed most of those.
“Peas, broccoli and cabbage, cauliflower, I covered mine the other night and they look OK,” he said. “But if you had tomatoes out, then shame on you, you shouldn’t have had that them out yet anyway.”