Spring-like days in Wyoming allude to planting and summer fieldworkWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Warm weather in Wyoming this spring has producers looking to their fields.
“There is probably some malt barley in the ground up in the Bighorn Basin, as nice as the weather has been up there,” notes Donn Randall, Crop and Forage Program manager at the Wyoming Business Council.
The Bighorn Basin usually gets started on spring planting sooner than most of the state, but springtime weather has arrived early throughout Wyoming.
“Dry land wheat is emerging,” comments Randall, “and alfalfa is already coming out of winter dormancy.”
Typically, Wyoming doesn’t see the season’s last day of frost until May 20, which has some producers worried about the freeze that could be yet to come.
“It would be a shame to lose that first crop to frost,” Randall says.
Alfalfa that has grown up over six inches may have to be cut, so that it can regrow up from the bottom.
“Alfalfa grows from the basal portion of the plant,” he explains.
Sugarbeets lost to frost have to be planted again.
“Sugarbeet growers are always trying to get their crops in early, but they have to be replanted if they get frozen,” he notes.
Despite the temperatures, the calendar still says March, he adds.
“Mostly, planting won’t really get going until April,” comments Randall.
Randall emphasizes that the soil composition varies throughout the state.
If anything, some producers may be putting fertilizer down, depending on the region they are working in and the crops they are growing.
“We can’t give a blanket recommendation for fertilizer, because it depends on the soil,” says Randall.
Producers should have their soil tested and work with local co-ops and fertilizer dealers to understand which additives might be necessary on their operations, as conditions are widely variable across Wyoming.
“The challenge we have for soils in southeastern Wyoming is a high pH,” he notes.
Many producers in that area have to use fertilizers that will neutralize the pH of their soils so that it will be more hospitable to their crops.
“The high pH binds up the nutrients,” Randall explains.
“A producer who has been farming or ranching for any amount of time will know what is in their soil, because it is good farming practice and good economics,” he says.
Farmers are also somewhat limited to traditional crops such as alfalfa, sunflowers and wheat.
“We are bound to crops that work at this elevation and with our seasons,” notes Randall.
The UW James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) in Lingle is looking at the feasibility of growing quinoa in Wyoming.
Randall notes, “That is still just on an experimental basis.”
There may also be some experimentation with sorghum.
“The Chinese export market for sorghum is very strong right now,” explains Randall, who recently returned from a commodity crop conference in Phoenix, Ariz.
Although it may have a place in the market, only select areas of the state have much hope for success.
“Sorghum is a warm, Southern Plains crop,” he explains.
There may also be farming innovation on the way, thanks to drone technology.
“We will be talking about crop scouting with drones,” mentions Randall, although current Federal Aviation Administration rules restrict many drone possibilities.
The Wyoming Business Council and UW Extension will be hosting a Forage Field Day in Basin on June 11, where producers can learn more about soil fertility, marketing and emerging technologies. Look for more information in the Roundup as summer approaches.