Once upon a time I farmed with Pappy. I actually never called him “Pappy.” He was always “Dad,” but this is just a story, after all.
You can tell that because it starts “Once upon a time.” That’s how stories start, and that tells you that this might all be true, but the parts that aren’t, should be.
By 1963 I was in high school, and Pappy was up to 630 acres. That was a lot of acres for 1963, and we had an argument for each one.
When to plant
The one argument we had every year was when to plant corn. I thought it ought to be early in May. Pappy thought the last few days of May was fine.
I said there was a yield penalty for late planting, which was after May 10 or so this far north. Some people said May 5, but we said they were in Trumbull County, so what did they know about our part of the world?
Pappy argued that when you planted late in May, the soil was warm, the seed popped up in three days or so, and the corn grew faster. By 1967 I was at Ohio State, and fairly soon I had decided that I was right.
At least I thought so. Fifty years later I know we were both right, if we could have just picked the right year to be right in. This year we are having the kind of year that would make Pappy glad he had not planted corn yet.
We had heavy frost Monday morning, May 9, and we have had so much rain that any slight depression in a field around here is full of water. On the best days the temperatures have broken into the 50s. If it does not rain for another five days or so, we may dry out enough to plant by the 15th, at least if it doesn’t rain after the 15th for a while.
Last week, USDA told us Monday afternoon in the Planting Progress Report that we had caught up the corn planting to historical averages. That was fine for last week, but try to find a place in Ohio that planted one bushel of corn in the week we just had.
Planters don’t walk on water, and neither do most of the farmers you know. The truth is, every three or four years in Ashtabula County the corn that is planted after the long wet, cold spell is better than the corn planted before.
This is not as true with some of the tough varieties of today as it used to be, but it is still valid. The early corn is subject to Pythium death, slugs, frost, and stunting that it never grows out of.
On the other hand, the record yields always come with early planting followed by good weather, which gives us a lot of sunshine in a short time and few environmental dangers to the growing crop.
USDA reported this Monday afternoon, May 9, that there had been just a little progress in soybean planting, and the corn progress was significant. I just don’t know where it could have been.
USDA said Ohio farmers got four more percent of the crop planted last week, up to 46 percent. They were at 30 percent this time last week, and they are actually ahead of the average, which is 38 percent.
USDA said the soybeans are now at 16 percent planted in Ohio, just better than the 14 or so last week. Last year we were at 21 percent, and the average is 17 percent.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is at 47 percent corn planted, up from 34 last week, and almost up to the 52 percent average. Soybean planting in the country is at 14 percent, not quite up to the 17 average, but an improvement from the ten percent we had last week at this time. Last year we were at 21 percent planted at this date.
After Pappy died, I planted corn three years in a row in April. I chose a farm that was systematically tiled and also had consistent slope for surface drainage.
All three years turned out to be cool and damp. All three years I was about ready to replant when corn finally emerged the last couple of days of May.
Writing this reminds me of some of the other arguments we had . Why can’t we grow soybeans if Hugh Hamilton can?
(This, in a time when he was the only farmer in the county brave enough to plant beans.) Why can’t we plant wheat after beans, even if it is October?
And, the second annual favorite, what population do we need for corn? I remember the year I watched from the far end of the field as Pappy drove up in his car, got out and started digging up seeds to check my planting depth.
First he was casual, then he was frantic. By the time I was back to his end of the field, he was explosive! He pointed across the Route 6 and Route 11 interchange to a row of wire corn cribs (remember, this was in the dark ages) and yelled, “Some year we will have a dry spell, and the ears you grow will be so small that you will run them in the crib and they will pour out the sides!”