Water for Food

Farming in the Great Plains: ‘Things can go either way.’

April 1, 2014

April Hemmes on her farm in north central Iowa Photo by Jesse Starita, 2013

April Hemmes on her farm in north central Iowa
Photo by Jesse Starita, 2013

By guest contributor April Hemmes, Iowa farmer

A year ago, I had a decision to make. It was time to plant, and my ground was ready. But soil temperatures were barely what they should be, and there was snow in the forecast. In my area, everyone knew that the longer we waited, the more yield we could lose. And the unusually wet spring had already delayed planting. But was it still too early? Should I wait until after the snow?

In the end, I decided to get what planting done that I could because after the snow it was going to warm up, and hey, it was the last week of April; it wasn’t going to stay cold for weeks! That turned out to be the right decision for me, and many others wish they had planted.

Farming is that way: things can go either way, and you have no control or insight into what the weather will do. One thing we do know in Iowa is that the weather will change, so you can’t make major changes on your farm just because of one wet or dry year. I went from a drought in 2012 to an abnormally wet spring in 2013. With those great rains in April and May last year, we thought we were on track for record yields, but that was not to be. My corn yield was actually better in 2012 than it was in 2013 after the rain shut off in July and August. Those early rains weren’t enough to keep the crop going, reducing yields. In 2012, I went in with sufficient subsoil moisture, and since I have no irrigation that made all the difference.

Today, 85 percent of Iowa is still abnormally dry and almost half of the state is in a moderate drought. Since I knew I would be going into this planting season with insufficient moisture, I decided to leave some highly erodible ground in standing corn stalks and just sow no-till beans into the ground this spring. Most every farmer I have talked to is not doing anything different than they usually do. What I do is watch the markets even closer to see what happens in the other crop regions around the world. It is truly a world market these days, and rainfall all over the world affects markets here in the U.S.

I look forward to this crop year after this COLD, WINDY winter! Hopefully, I will get into the fields soon, but the frost is deep this year, so it will be another waiting game if we don’t get some warm days.

Spring is always fun. I get out and watch the soil temperature, get equipment ready, work the soil and load the planter. Since I mainly work by myself, I hire my liquid nitrogen and pre-plant chemicals to be applied so I can get in the fields quicker. As I talk to many farmers in the area, the thought of drought is in the back of our minds. But what we do is farm, not worry about weather. So we carry on the way we know works best on our farms and is best for the land.

April Hemmes farms 1,000 acres in north central Iowa on a farm that’s been in her family for more than 100 years. She plants a 50/50 rotation of corn and soybeans with pasture and alfalfa hay.

Disclaimer: The Daugherty Water for Food Institute welcomes blog articles from guest contributors. Please note the comments shared by guests represent their own views and not necessarily those of DWFI, the University of Nebraska or any institutions with which DWFI may be affiliated.

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