SUCCESSFUL FARMING – HEATHER BARNES – Memorial Day – Many people in North Carolina traveled to the beach or the mountains for a long weekend. We’ll be headed to the field.
One thing I have learned since marrying a farmer is that farming doesn’t always stop for the holidays. I have to say, having not grown up on a farm, I didn’t realize crop farmers often worked on holidays. I thought they planted the crop, then came back several months later and harvested it. I didn’t realize how much work went into growing a crop. I didn’t realize how important timing is to growing a crop. It seems obvious to me that if we had livestock, we wouldn’t take the holidays off. Someone would need to check on the animals 365 days per year. Now I know that crop farmers don’t always take holidays off either.
It’s been a cold, wet winter and spring here in North Carolina. March in North Carolina was not been kind to farmers. Temperatures were colder than in February. It rained every week and we even had a dusting of snow at the farm, which is not usual weather for the eastern part of our state. What did this cooler, wet weather mean for farmers? It meant the to-do list grew, and the window to finish it shrunk.
We needed to start bedding land, building it up into rows that would eventually grow tobacco and sweet potatoes. When we bed land, we fumigate for nematodes at the same time. Fumigation is one part of our pest-control program. Other aspects of our program include crop rotation, planting resistant varieties, and sampling to monitor nematode population levels. Nematodes are microscopic insects that attack the roots of many plants, including tobacco and sweet potatoes. Damage to sweet potatoes, which are the edible roots of the plant, isn’t seen until harvest. The label of the nematicide, a pesticide that targets nematodes, says soil temperatures (as opposed to air temperature) must be a minimum of ____˚F. otherwise it won’t be effective. After fumigation, we are required to wait at least 10 days before transplanting. Different nematicides will have different requirements.
The rain kept us from bedding land when we normally would, so plants had to be mowed almost daily or they would grow too large to transplant. In a typical year, we will start transplanting tobacco in mid-April and sweet potatoes in early May. Crops need a certain amount of time, 90 to 120 days in the case of sweet potatoes, to grow before harvest. We want to start digging in late August and need to be finished before the first frost, which is usually in early November, because frost will damage sweet potatoes. Our seed potatoes in the field are about three weeks behind, because it was so cold when they were rolled out. This means we will be later transplanting most of our sweet potatoes.
Corn germinated late this year because the soil temperature was so cold. Some corn didn’t germinate at all because the seed rotted in the ground after so much rain. This meant we had to go back into some fields and replant corn a second time.
We stopped planting soybeans in order to focus on tobacco and now that all our tobacco is set, we can’t get in the field to plant beans.
Normally by this time of year, all our tobacco has been plowed at least twice and some three times. Plowing the rows not only helps control weeds, but also works the fertilizer we’ve put out into the soil and gets air to the plants roots. We only have a short window to plow it before the plants get too big and will be damaged by plowing.
When Mother Nature keeps us out of the field, we have no choice but to work when weather permits. This meant tractors across the county ran on Easter Sunday, as many of our neighbors also missed Easter lunch to get fields ready for planting. On Mother’s Day, my farmer managed to get away long enough for a quick dinner out. Memorial Day weekend, which traditionally kicks off the summer here, was spent in the field. The forecast was calling for three straight days of rain starting on Memorial Day, so farmers worked overtime to get fieldwork done while they could. Many of our Memorial Days have been spent in the combine picking wheat. This year, we haven’t picked the first head of grain, as the wheat hasn’t matured yet because of the cold, wet weather.
Farming isn’t easy and I’ve learned we are often at the mercy of Mother Nature. Timing is critical, so when tractors can get in the field during the season, it doesn’t matter what day of the week, holiday, or celebration is going on.