On Friday, April 22, the annual event called Earth Day will be recognized across the United States. For over three decades, this event has been a time for all U.S. citizens to reflect on our country’s environmental resources, and what we can do individually and as communities to help enhance our environment for the next generation. In recent years, it has become fashionable to point the finger of blame at agriculture and farmers for many environmental issues. However, in reality farmers have been some of the best environmental stewards in the U.S. in the past couple of decades. This has been accomplished with a relatively small investment of federal tax dollars.
Consider the following environmental facts about U.S. agriculture :
- Since 1982, the soil erosion rate on U.S. cropland has been reduced by over 40% .
- Conservation tillage is now used on about 36% of all cropland in the U.S.
- Farm owners have enrolled approximately 35 million acres in the CRP Program.
- From 1997 to 2002, U.S. farmers and ranchers added 131,400 acres of new wetlands.
- More than half of all U.S. producers intentionally provide habitat for wildlife.
- Each year farmers plant hundreds of thousands of trees through SWCD tree planting programs.
Like the start of a big race or the beginning of a Championship game, farmers in Southern Minnesota are anxiously awaiting the initiation of full-scale fieldwork across the region. Above normal temperatures throughout most of March and early April have farm operators poised to start tillage practices and to begin planting corn. However, a heavy snowfall across Southern Minnesota in late March, followed by frequent rainfall events in early April, have kept most fields too wet to begin Spring fieldwork. There have been some peas planted, and some small grain and alfalfa seeded, on areas that have been a little drier. There have also been some isolated reports of corn being planted.
Once the fields dry out, the soil should be fit for planting. The 24-hour average air temperature during the first half of April has averaged nearly 54 degrees F. at the U of M Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca. That’s almost 10 degrees above the normal average air temperature at Waseca for the entire month of April. As a result, soil temperatures are also above normal for mid-April. For the 24-hour period that ended at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, April 18, the average daily soil temperatures at Waseca were 60 degrees at 2 in., 53 degrees at 4 in., and 51 degrees at the 8-in. depth. These temperatures are much above normal for mid-April, and are certainly ideal for planting corn.
At the U of M Southwest Research Center at Lamberton, MN, the stored soil moisture in the top 5 ft. of the soil profile on April 15 was over 7 in., which is more than an inch above normal, and over 2.5 in. more than in mid-April of 2004. The maximum stored soil moisture capacity at Lamberton is over 9.0 in. in the top 5 ft. of the soil profile. Actually, the current level of stored soil moisture in April is very comparable to the April levels in 2001 and 2002. Of course, a wet spring in 2001 caused serious planting delays in many parts on South Central and Southwest Minnesota that led to significant reductions in corn yields. However, in 2002, favorable weather patterns in late April and early May allowed for timely corn planting and very good yields. According to University of Minnesota and private seed company research, the “ideal time window” to plant corn in Southern Minnesota in order to achieve optimum yields is April 20 to May 5. So, the good news is that we are just at the beginning of this “ideal time window” for corn planting.
Editors note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at [email protected]