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Farmers Juggle Hurry-Up-and-Wait Crop Planting Schedule

By Pamela Smith

Quint Pottinger got an early start on spring planting this year, but the last few weeks have been a waiting game.

"We get a few hours from pulling in the field and it rains us out again," said Pottinger, who farms in central Kentucky near New Haven. "I'll be honest--between the weather and the commodity markets, this spring has already been stressful. These delays also compress everything that comes next on our operations calendar, such as spraying and sidedressing."

Dan Lakey doesn't exactly like the hurry-up-and-wait dance either, but it happens nearly every year in southeastern Idaho. Spring kicked off in April for him this year, which is a tad early from typical. But the farmer, who lives in Soda Springs, and farms at high elevations, ran into a rainy, snowy slog in May that has put him back to about average progress.

Lakey and Pottinger are reporting in as part of DTN's View From the Cab feature. The series follows what's happening in the field and covers rural topics through the growing season.

This week the farmers talk about crop progress, new farming practices being tried and how weather is cooperating or complicating life.

DTN ag meteorologist John Baranick said the good news is both farming regions are starting off the year with good soil moisture. "The weather pattern in both areas has definitely been active and will likely stay that way for the next week," noted Baranick.

"It doesn't mean both locations get hit with anything substantial, but they are in line for at least some chances for more rain. It looks like a lot of up-and-down temperatures as systems move through.

"For Soda Springs, the mountains can play tricks too, resulting in sometimes significantly warmer or colder conditions than the forecast," he said.

In New Haven, this active pattern is also more likely to create chances for more rain and shorter planting windows. Baranick added.

"We'll be on the lookout for La Nina to flip the pattern and get hotter and drier conditions into the area this summer. That's a big unknown and something that could turn this season into a sort of Jekyll and Hyde type of weather pattern, maybe like what we saw last year. And that doesn't go for just central Kentucky, that goes for the entire Corn Belt," he added.

That's farming, though. "Kentucky. No season like the last. No way to predict the next," Pottinger wrote in social media posts this week. Read on to learn more about what's happening on their respective farms and some of the tactics they use to diffuse the worry.

DAN LAKEY: SODA SPRINGS, IDAHO

If Dan Lakey wants some quiet time, all he must do is nose the tractor in the direction of what he calls the "North Farm" where he farms several thousand acres and cell service is almost non-existent.

"There's one place in a field where I can pop up on a ridge and get a text message out or maybe a 30-second call. But mostly it means we have to be very good at planning before we leave each day," Lakey said.

"We never want a breakdown, but if we have one there, it can mean a 30-mile drive to get a part," he said.

This extra planning and communicating among the farming team isn't all bad because there are a lot of moving parts to this operation. Life was simpler when the farm grew mostly wheat. But these days, Lakey Farms depends on a diverse mix of a dozen crops spread over 75 fields branching out some 50 miles from the main farm headquarters.

"We start out each year with a plan of what we want to grow on each field, but it is constantly changing as we discover new opportunities with specialty contracts or realize the ground needs something different for the rotation than what we had planned," he said.

All this makes for interesting discussions with the crop insurance salesman. And then, there's a lot of recordkeeping involved, such as making sure residual herbicides line up right with subsequent crops. Lakey depends on John Deere Operations Center to keep things straight, but he still likes to keep written notes.

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