Snow delays spring corn planting, asparagus harvest

By Nick Stanek

Farmers may be off to a late start this year after snowfall and low temperatures put them behind schedule.

There is good news and bad news associated with the snow.

The heavy snow insulated the ground, protecting micro-organisms that are good for corn.

But the high water remaining in fields could strain the industry, said corn grower Scott Lonier, owner of Lonier Farms near Lansing.

“We are at the mercy of Mother Nature right now,” he said.

“Snow has been melting gradually,and combined with the rain could lead to water at deep levels in the soil, contributing to a healthy root system,” Lonier said. “But if farmers aren’t able to prepare the fields soon, the yield could be decreased and corn prices could go up.”

The snow set asparagus growers behind their normal harvesting schedule. Unlike corn, which is planted annually, asparagus stays in the ground year-round. “Frozen water in the soil can damage roots,” said John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board. This also makes asparagus more vulnerable to late spring frosts.

“It is obvious to us now that our season is going to be late,” he said. “We typically start a month from now but we are looking at starting in six weeks.”

Asparagus starts to grow when soil about 8 to 10 inches deep warms.

“I’ve seen the weather changing rapidly,” Bakker said. “It looks like we will start harvesting about two weeks late at this point.”

Despite the difficulties, asparagus yields could be higher this year because the asparagus is protected by the snow and the probability of being hit with a late spring frost is lower.

The weather doesn’t affect just the plants.

Snow delayed trains carrying fertilizer needed for spring planting,” said Jim Byrum, the president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

“People think trains can just plow through snow and they can’t,” he said.

Farmers are all waiting for fields to be dry enough to plant.

“Everyone is going to want to plant at the same time which is going to cause a logistical nightmare for us,” Byrum said.

There is still time for farmers to catch up but they will be behind if the weather continues to prevent them from planting for up to another three weeks. Waiting any longer could mean a lower crop yield, Lonier said.

Jeff Sandborn, owner of Sandborn Farms in Portland, said his fields have too much water and the weather isn’t warm enough for it to evaporate.

“If all of this rain continues, we will have to start later than last year,” he said. “At this time we see no reason to be concerned.”

Delays will only happen if the fields remain wet, Lonier said. “Right now the fields are too muddy to do anything on them, you can’t even walk on them.”

“No two years are the same. Last year we didn’t start planting until the last week of April. We just roll with the punches.”

Other crops aren’t affected as badly.

“People think the fruit crop is behind because of this,” Byrum said. “Fruit crop really isn’t behind. It has been cold and nasty but things could go back to normal.”

Although soybean farmers may have to work harder this year, the industry should not be affected, said Tim Boring, research director of the Michigan Soybean Association.

“I don’t think this is going to affect prices at all,” he said. “There are many factors that affect prices. [The weather] will put some strain on the industry. [Farmers] may have to work in 15 days instead of 30 to get the crops out.”

Corn has a higher demand and is facing other challenges. Not only is it a food, it is also used to feed livestock and produce ethanol.