After 40 years of working in agriculture, Mike Mackie thought he had seen everything.
A West Central FS agronomy operations manager from Galesburg, Illinois, Mackie said this spring “took the cake” as one of the strangest years he has seen in farming.
With post-harvest work almost nonexistent for many farmers in the Midwest during the fall of 2018, the spring pre-planting season kept Mackie’s operation busy nearly around the clock. Now, he is hard at work making sure the 2020 spring isn’t nearly as busy.
“We increased our fleet of tractors for custom application of ammonia by three, so now we have 21 tractors,” Mackie said. “They are in the field now. We are actually keeping up because things are moving slow.”
Anthony Schneider, location manager for Service and Supply Coop in Bellflower, Missouri, said “virtually nothing” was applied in his area in the fall of 2018. However, due to variability in soil conditions, applications were spread out enough this past spring to not cause a supply issue.
Now, with most retailers and plants back to full ammonia capacity, everything should be back in place to run quickly this fall, Schneider said. The biggest factor will be how much can get done due to harvest delays and the unpredictability of the weather.
“Right now, harvest is slightly behind where it normally would be,” Schneider said of his area in east central Missouri. “As far as getting products on this fall, the further harvest is delayed, that’s going to push any application back that same amount of time. Every week later in the year, we run the risk of having inclement weather.”
Despite the overall harvest being behind, Schneider said he believes his group has already applied more product going into the last week of October than last year.
“We have high hopes of getting over a lot of acres in the next month to six weeks,” he said.
Mackie echoed those thoughts, saying if Mother Nature allows producers to go until a freeze, he does not anticipate a repeat of last year.
Mackie said if delays persist and the post-harvest season is shortened significantly, the most important items to take care of are ammonia, followed by anything that “needs to be ripped,” such as corn stalks.
“I’ve been in this long enough to know if you have a good fall, you have a good year,” Mackie said. “If you get a lot of this stuff out of the way, it shoves too much into the spring, it’s chaos.”
For most applications, Mackie said he suggests halting activity when the ground freezes. He said frozen ground will start to affect the toolbars, shearing bolts and breaking shanks. Even if it creates more work in the spring, it might be more beneficial to wait and not force anything in the soil.
Farmers will be pushing to do as much as possible, but even if the soil freezes, Schneider said there are still some options available if needed.
“If the ground does freeze, we have a handful of customers that will allow us to apply on frozen ground,” he said. “We put dry fertilizer on frozen ground, and that’s up to the customer. We are willing if they are, but I don’t like forcing guys to do something they aren’t comfortable with.”