The 2009 planting season started somewhat early this year. We had corn going into the ground around the 20th of April along with the acres of wheat and oats that are planted in our area. Soybeans followed soon after and we had few rain delays to slow planting progress.
So where are we at right now? We need moisture and we need it bad. As of this writing, (the first week of June) we are behind 3-4 inches of rain that we normally receive in May. I can't remember a dryer month of May for many years. It was nice to get the crop in the ground, but now we need moisture to get everything evened out and up and growing. Some of the soybeans have been lying in dry dirt for a few weeks now and we could see some poor stands because of it. It has been great for the alfalfa harvest. In past years we have had some difficulty getting the first crop of alfalfa harvested without getting some rain on it. This year, dairy producers are telling me that they had no difficulty putting up some top quality forages without any rain on it which means good quality feed for next winter. The problem is that with the lack of moisture in May, we did see a bit of a short crop on the first cutting of alfalfa. This could be made up with the third and fourth cutting if we would get some normal rainfall in June and July. That's a big if, because we know that 2007 saw 42 consecutive days without significant rainfall from the last week in June until the first week of August. Time will tell the story of the 2009 crop.
Another phenomenon that we saw this spring was the use of rollers over a lot of the cropland in our area. You have probably seen the huge rolling drums pulled by big tractors rolling across the fields. They looked like 40-foot rolling pins smoothing out bread dough on a 160-acre bread board. Farmers simply call it "ground rolling" and the object is two-fold. First of all, it serves to make a nice, smooth surface to run the combine over, especially when combing soybeans. The rolling action pushes rocks into the ground and the combine header as an easier time passing over the ground while set low enough the pick-up the lowest pods on the soybean plant. You want to avoid running a rock into a machine like a combine and avoid a big repair bill. This can mean an extra 3-4 bushels of soybeans per acre by getting the combine header as low as possible. The roller also presses last years corn root balls into the ground or simply crushes them. Today's corn hybrids have such strong stalks and roots that they do not break down over the winter and farmers have to deal with the balls of dirt held together by the roots of last years corn stalks. I have walked in some fields where corn was grown last year and experienced difficulty walking due to many clumps of soft-ball sized soil.
Another benefit of rolling is the establishment of a good, firm seedbed. Some farmers roll before planting to make a nice smooth surface for planting. Others roll the fields after planting to make good seed-soil contact and enhance germination. Care has to be taken to avoid rolling the fields if they are too wet as severe compaction can occur. Research is going on right now to determine which method is the best and if there is indeed, any benefit to germination and final plant stand.