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Shelby farmers itching to get in the ground

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Wet winter weather is keeping the ground from getting turned

By Todd Martin

The weather is once again wreaking havoc on Kentucky’s farmers.

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Last year early warm weather left fields plowed and planted and schedules running about two weeks early.

This year, it looks like it could be the reverse.

According to Western Kentucky University’s  Mesonet weather station in Shelby County, the area has received about 12 inches of rain during the past 90 days, or 146 percent of what’s expected over that period.

Add to that some expected temperatures well below average this week, and some fields may not get turned over as early as people would hope.

“The temperature isn’t quite as big a concern as the moisture right now,” said Corinne Kephart, county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. “People are starting to get that itch. They want to get out and get the ground broken up, and they can’t.

“We’re not to a critical stage yet, but I think we still have some cold and wet forecasts through the first couple of weeks of April.”

Ray Tucker, who plans to plant 700 acres in corn and 140 in tobacco, said he probably would plant corn around the middle of April, and tobacco and soybeans a little later, because he wants to be sure the frost is over before planting the latter two crops.

“With corn, it’s probably going to be somewhere around the fifteenth or the twentieth [of April] the way the weather’s going this year, because the ground temperature has to be at least fifty degrees to plant corn,” he said. “We’ll start planting tobacco and soybeans when they’re not talking about any more frost, which is normally the first week of May.”

Tucker said many farmers are getting impatient to start planting, but they should keep in mind that the weather that Kentucky is experiencing right now is more normal for this time of year than the weather that we had last spring.

“Last year, we were looking at eighty-five degree temperatures this time of year, and that makes people think we’re running behind for this time of year, but we’re really not,” he said. “It just gives us more time to clean things up and for equipment maintenance.”

Farmers such as Tucker who raise tobacco also are facing a new issue, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Mother Nature or insects.

“A big thing that has caught a lot of people off guard is most of the tobacco companies are requiring GAP training, and that stands for Good Agriculture Practices,” Kephart said. “Some people didn’t realize that they need it, and some companies require it before you sign your contract and others before you sell it [the crop]. Of course, people are signing contracts now, so it’s caught a lot of people by surprise.”

Kephart said most companies aren’t requiring growers to have the training until its time to sell, so the Shelby County Extension Office will offer more training programs.

“We’ll have a couple more,” she said. “We’ll probably have one over the summer, when people aren’t as busy, and another one in the fall, right when everyone is topping and drying. But a lot of people are going to forget or not realize they have to have it.”

This training provides guidelines designed to reduce the likelihood of contamination of crops and focuses on using safe techniques and inputs on all levels of the farm.

Kentucky’s GAP program has three levels – education, self-audit and independent third-party certification.

Looking ahead to this year, Kephart said she believes that grain prices will continue to stay high and dominate the market.

“I don’t really see any reason that would change,” she said. “People are enjoying some really high prices over the last couple of years, but it depends on which side you’re on. If you’re growing grain, it’s good, but if you’re buying to feed livestock, it’s been a lot tougher.”

Tying in with that grain market price, and the markets for other products, Kephart said the Shelby County Extension Office would host Warren Beeler from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on April 23 for a seminar on state regulations and markets.

In January, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer appointed Beeler as the director of agriculture policy for the Department of Agriculture.

“That’s going to be a really good seminar,’ she said.