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Crops

Stepping into spring - Farmers prepare for planting

Written by Saige Albert

Across Wyoming, farmers are preparing their fields for planting, but concerns for moisture are prevalent across the state. 

In their March 2015 Wyoming Crop Progress report, the Wyoming Field Office of the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) noted that topsoil moisture is only 31 percent adequate, with 65 percent of soils categorized as short and four percent very short. 

Last year, 81 percent of topsoil had adequate moisture. 

Subsoil moisture levels, according to the March 30 report, showed 42 percent adequate, 55 percent short and three percent very short, compared to last year’s 76 percent adequate and 24 percent short. 

Southeast

“Right now, we are definitely dry,” said Bob Baumgartner, the farm manager at the UW James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC). “We are really starting to dry out right now.”

However, he also notes that farmers are probably ahead of schedule as far as planting this year. 

To address the lack of moisture, Baumgartner noted, “The biggest thing we can do is to hold off on tilling for as long as we can to try to conserve the moisture we have prior to seeding. We should wait until we are a lot closer to planting.”

With warm weather, he comments that farmers are itching to get started, but it is important to hold off. 

“When we open up the ground, it dries out,” he said. “If we can hold off on tilling, that is best.”

“If we can get some spring moisture, hopefully things will turn out well,” Baumgartner noted.

Progress

At the beginning of April, Baumgartner said that many farmers are preparing their fields for planting and doing some early spring tillage. 

“Farmers are chopping corn stalks and trying to get some of the things done that we could have done last fall,” he continued. “Since it froze so early last year, there were some things that we didn’t get done.”

Manure spreading and fertilizing is also being done at this time of year.

“There is quite a bit of barley in the ground around Wheatland,” he said. “There is also some barley in the ground in the valley around Torrington, as well.” 

In southeast Wyoming, small grains are planted between the middle of March and middle of April. Starting in the middle of April, sugarbeets are planted, followed by corn.

Bighorn Basin

In the northwest corner of the state, Camby Reynolds, farm manager at the Powell Research and Extension Center, said, “Everything is going really well up here.”

Many producers have their barley planted already, and sugarbeets are scheduled to be planted the last part of April. 

Across the state, Wyoming NASS reports that 18 percent of barley has been planted.

“Beans usually go in around the same time as sugarbeets – the first part of May,” he noted. “Sunflowers also go in during the middle of May.”

Early spring activity

This time of year, he says that many producers are preparing their fields by beginning to apply fertilizer. 

“I think a lot more people are paying attention to their fertilizers,” Reynolds noted. “It is about trying to get the best yields for their dollar. People are starting to look into variable rate fertilizers to get the most production out of their most productive ground.”

Reynolds also noted that the Bighorn Basin is also dry relative to past years, and he says the producers who have barley stubble left in the field or who planted a cover crop are more likely to see better moisture levels. 

Prospective planting

In the Wyoming NASS Prospective Plantings report, the agency noted that Wyoming growers are expected to see increases in planting of barley, winter wheat, hay and sugarbeets, with drops in dry edible beans. Corn and oat levels are expected to stay consistent with 2014 levels.

“As of March 1, Wyoming growers intend to plant 90,000 acres of corn for all purposes in 2015,” said the Mountain Regional Field Office of NASS. “The area expected to be seeded to oats, at 30,000 acres, is unchanged from a year ago.”

Growers expressed intentions to plant 85,00 acres of barley, an increase of 5,000 acres over last year’s actual planted acreage, and winter wheat is expected to increase 15,000 acres from the 2014 crop to 155,000 acres. 

“Hay producers in the state intend to harvest 1.10 million acres this year,” NASS continued. “This is up 40,000 acres from the acreage cut for hay in 2014.” 

Sugarbeet plantings are intended to increase 1,300 acres to 31,500 acres. 

The only marked drop in acreage for Wyoming producers was seen in dry edible bean plantings.

“Dry edible bean acreage is expected to total 32,000 acres, down 24 percent from 42,000 acres planted in 2014,” NASS said.

US planting data

Across the U.S., the NASS released their Prospective Planting data for March 1. 

“Corn planted for all purposes in 2015 is estimated at 89.2 million acres, down two percent from last year,” said NASS. “If realized, this will be the third consecutive year of an acreage decline and would be the lowest planted acreage in the United States since 2010.”

Oats in the 2015 crop year are expected to cover 2.93 million acres, an increase of eight percent, and barley is expected to be planted across 3.26 million acres – a 10 percent increase from last year.

“All wheat planted area for 2015 is estimated at 55.4 million acres, down three percent from 2014,” NASS continued. “The 2015 winter wheat planted area, at 40.8 million acres, is down four percent from last year but up one percent from the previous estimate.”

All dry hay is expected to be harvested from 57.1 million acres – a number that is virtually unchanged from 2014. Increases in the Mid-Atlantic and Central Plains will be offset by decreases across the Southern and Pacific States, as well as in the Upper Midwest.

“Area expected to be planted to sugarbeets for the 2015 crop year is estimated at 1.18 million acres, up two percent from last year,” NASS noted. “Intended plantings acres are above the previous year’s in seven of the 10 estimating states.”

Dry bean acreage is expected to increase by one percent to 1.74 million acres. 

“So far it looks like a great year,” Reynolds said, “especially if we get a little more moisture.”

Baumgartner added, “We hope Mother Nature helps us out with some moisture.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..