How does our farm decide what to plant?

I’m tackling a few farming basics on my blog these next few weeks, for a variety of reasons: 1) spring still hasn’t showed up, delaying my ability to be outside and getting some of these very same things done, 2) search terms leading people to my blog are letting me know that there are a lot of these types of questions out there, and 3) I just so happen to have recorded some radio spots that answered these questions.

I decided to tackle our planting decisions as the first in this series. Why? Because with the late spring, our decisions may be changing rapidly. But in order for you to understand the process, I’ll start at the beginning and walk you through it all.

The next year’s season begins as we’re taking the crop off. (Actually, the plans are in the works for years before, but harvest kicks off the next planting cycle.) Boss Man has a general idea of what he would like to plant, where he plans on planting it, and what the soil conditions will need to be like in order to be successful.

combine, harvest

EJ, watching his Dad and Grandfather harvest a crop a few years ago. We have since upgraded from the Massey combines to green machines!

Shortly after the crop is off the field, our crop consultant performs soil tests to see where our soil stands, as far as nutrient needs and potential for the next spring. That’s how we find out what amenities we may need to apply, for example nitrogen, phosphorous, etc. It’s pretty scientific, but we can rely on the expertise of those around us. Kind of like taking kids to the doctor to see what’s wrong, but instead of our kids, it’s our soil we test.

Many times seed companies have discounts or incentives that make it worthwhile to purchase your seed early. That way they know what types of seed may be in demand the next year, etc., and they can better prepare for the coming spring as well.

Now, let me be clear with one thing. Although different companies may offer incentives, the decision lies solely with our farm.

I know that some believe that seed companies bully farmers or push them into making different decisions, but I have yet to encounter anything of the sort. In fact, most of the seed representatives in our area are local farmers themselves.

farm freebies

Freebies, such as the hat on Boss Man’s head, may seem like great perks…but they don’t play a role in the decisions we make.

On our farm, we diversify. We buy a variety of seed from a variety of places, and make decisions for the next year based on how the crop performed and the availability at the time that we order.

But that’s also all done in pencil…meaning it may change.

Take, for example, this spring. Here it is, the end of April. And we still have snow on the ground. The weather isn’t much above freezing. It doesn’t appear as if field work will happen any time soon. Before too long, some of the crop decisions that were made last fall, may end up being changed.

late spring in ND

A recent storm dumped an extra 20 inches of snow on us. It’ll be a few days before we can even think about planting anything!

Why is that?

Different crops are planted at different times, ensuring that they have a long enough growing season to fully mature before harvest. It’s similar to planning a garden. You know you can plant peas throughout the season. They grow fast and mature quickly. Yet, tomatoes are more finicky about their care and need more time to produce fruit.

corn plant

We do what we can to make sure our crops have the best change to produce a great crop!

The same is true for crops. Corn and wheat are planted earlier in the year. They need more time to mature. Soybeans can be planted later in the season. They grow more quickly and can perform very well with a later plant date. The same is true for all of the crops that farms grow. Each one is different, and the current conditions may change a farmer’s whole plan for the year.

So the next time you hear that one company or another controls a farmer’s decision on what they plant, you can let people know that you know that’s not true. The ultimate decision lies with the farm.

Well, actually, it’s a much higher power than that, but the farmer is the one whose name is on the dotted line.

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3 thoughts on “How does our farm decide what to plant?

  1. Pingback: Farm Week in Pictures 05/11/2013 | The Farmer's Life

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