by Katie Navarra
The word for this year’s growing season is patience says Aaron Gabriel, soils and crops educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Washington County. Unlike the past few springs, this spring has been cold and wet.
“Farmers are a bit anxious with all the rain. It has slowed hay seedings and corn planting,” he said.
Some corn has been planted on “early soils,” but the cold, below the 50 degrees F temperatures needed for corn has slowed germination.
“A lot of seed is sitting in cold, wet soil conditions that promote seedling diseases and allow insects and birds more time to feed on the seeds,” he said. “We’ll see how it emerges and if it stays healthy.”
Planting in muddy conditions incurs the same expenses while often providing lower yields, but the long-term impacts of these crops will pay off on the initial investments.
While farmers wait to see how grain crops fare, it’s time to begin planning harvest of early winter forages including winter rye and winter triticale. Cold temperatures and wet fields will make this difficult. Soiled forage will not ferment well so an inoculant can help.
“It’s a year like this when cover crops and winter forages are taking excess moisture out of the soil, allowing you to better prepare for the next crop,” he said.
While farmers are waiting for weather and soil conditions to change, CCE Field Crop Educators are watching the migration of common armyworms and black cutworms. In the Midwest, traps set to catch these pests have had high catch rates. In New York, moths have shown up in traps set in Orange County, western New York and Columbia County. “We are keeping a close lookout since moths catches in the Midwest have been very high. And, we just had this storm come into the northeast which is how these pests arrive in our region,” he said.
This time of year is a balancing act, one that requires watching for emerging disease, pest and weed pressures, while waiting on the weather all at the same time that winter crops will be ready for harvest.
Throughout the winter and into spring soil conditions in hay fields can create crop damage. “Alfalfa plants can heave out of the soil from the winter and spring soil conditions. Some fields have been fine, while others have had considerable winter-kill from heaving,” he said.
He has also observed that the wet spring is bringing on foliar leaf spots on alfalfa and that some areas of New York have alfalfa weevil (AW) causing damage. “Cool weather has slowed the development of AW in our area, but once it warms up activity will increase,” he said. “That’s when larvae will molt and get larger and more hungry.”
Typically, alfalfa is harvested early in New York which helps to control early diseases and these insects. But he cautions that this has to be done with judgment so that the alfalfa has time to build its root reserves.
“Harvesting dry hay in late-May to early June is key to keeping weeds at bay,” Gabriel said. “For dairy quality grass haylage at the second week of May, I tell farmers to take the grass stem and split it length-wise with a knife.”
Inside the stem, the un-emerged leaves wrap around the seed head. Once the seed heads emerge from the stem and are four inches above the soil surface, take your first weather opportunity to begin harvest, Gabriel says. This will ensure that the harvest is done during the vegetative stage, the most nutritious stage of the plant. Harvesting at this stage also clips off the seed heads so that they do not come become tough.
“When hay is harvested too early, all those seed heads will be underneath the cutter bar and will show their “fibrous head” in your second cutting,” he said.
The weather can be tough on farmers, but with some innovation, they can often make the best of it. Growers who choose to be adaptable and willing to try new crop varieties and techniques can be successful in growing crops in all kinds of weather.
“There are all kind of options to plant new forages, small grains, summer annuals (like teff and sorghums), cover crops, soybeans, cowpea/sorghum-sudan mixtures,” Gabriel said. “Think about what will work best given the weather conditions that we will get.”
New herbicides can also be helpful. “We are familiar with glyphosate-resistant crops (RoundUp Ready),” he said. “There are now dicamba herbicide tolerant crops being marketed as well as the herbicides that can be applied to these crops.”
Local Cornell Cooperative Extension field crop educators provide a wealth of information to help farmers prepare for and react to changing weather and pest/disease/weed pressures. “We participate in weekly conference calls with field crop educators across the state to learn what is impacting farmers in each region and we all send out newsletters with tips and information,” he said. “We urge farmers to subscribe to the newsletter put out by their local CCE educator.”
This year, Gabriel is taking his field reports to social media. He posts his findings on his Facebook page www.facebook.com/aaron.gabriel.5437 and the weekly Ag Report the Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program blog, which can be found at http://blogs.cornell.edu/capitalareaagandhortprogram.