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Farmers face wet ground but plant anyway

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | 6:25 p.m. CDT; updated 8:13 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Marvin Sapp poses for a portrait while his brother, Robert, sows this year's corn crop in the background April 29. Due to the recent heavy rains, the brothers are about two weeks behind schedule in their planting.

COLUMBIA — It’s still too wet to plant, but farmers like Marvin Sapp are doing it anyway.

Sapp, who farms 560 acres of conservation ground in McBaine, is on a tight schedule to get corn and soybeans in the ground.

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“We’ve got to get the corn planted,” he said. “The Conservation Department says we have to have it out of the fields by Oct. 15.”

Like many other Missouri farmers, Sapp has been waiting for the rain to stop and the ground to dry so planting can begin.

Corn should be planted in early April, but wet weather in March and April caused a significant delay.

Corn planting is four weeks behind normal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop report for Missouri.

The Missouri Conservation Department, which rents land to farmers and helps them make positive decisions about its use, imposes a harvest deadline on farmers like Sapp. That means any delay in planting must be made up by quick, efficient effort once conditions are suitable. Sapp’s McBaine Farms has never missed a deadline.

In March, Columbia’s total rainfall was 5.37 inches, 2.16 inches higher than the month’s average.

By April 29, 4.27 inches of rain had fallen during the month, 0.26 inches higher than normal, according to the National Weather Service.

All the rain has taken its toll.

The wet weather has made the soil too soggy for farm equipment, halting any planting progress.

“When the ground sticks to the wheels, it’s too wet to plant,” Sapp said.

He picked up a handful of surface dirt and rubbed it in his hands.

“It shouldn’t ball up when you do that,” he said.

It didn’t. But looking out over the field, it was clear that just beneath the surface, the dirt was still saturated.

“The ground is borderline here,” Sapp said. The crop report said that tillage is also a month behind normal.

“It’s a little too wet, but we’re running so late we have to get on with it.”

Pools of water in the fields aren’t helping.

“We did have one spot where we had to quit planting (on Tuesday) because it was still too wet.”

For farmers, the situation is frustrating because they have no control over it.

“Just wait — that’s all you can do,” Sapp said. “We’ve been waiting for a few weeks now.”

Steve Cromley of MFA Incorporated said corn and soybeans are usually in the ground by the beginning of April.

“Only about 8 percent of Missouri’s corn has been planted,” Cromley said.

Sapp and his brother Robert, owners of McBaine Farms about 10 miles south of Columbia, began planting their corn April 22 but had to stop when they were rained out.

They went out into the fields again Tuesday, hoping to finish Wednesday before the rain expected today “and just to get the corn planted in general,” he said.

They finished planting midday Wednesday.

Corn should be planted in early April, but sometimes planting goes as late as early May, Sapp said. The latest a farmer can wait is mid-May, he said.

Under optimal conditions, a springtime planting allows crops to properly pollinate before it gets too dry.

Because the rain has pushed planting into late spring, the Sapp brothers asked a friend to help plant this week.

“We’ve got extra help right now to get us through the ‘hard times’ ” he said with a laugh. “Usually it’s just Robert and me.”

Sapp expects to stay close to schedule and get his corn harvested on time because he finally planted his crops.

That is, as long as the weather is good and Columbia sees average rainfall from here on out.

Corn usually takes about a week to come up, more if it’s cold.

If it’s hot, it could emerge in as few as five to six days, Sapp said.

He plants medium-season corn, meaning the growing season lasts 109 to 110 days. This allows the Sapp brothers to get their corn out of the field on time to meet Conservation Department regulations.

“This corn should be close by mid-September,” Sapp said. “We’ll probably start harvesting around Sept. 20.”

By Oct. 15, the crops should be on their way to the market.


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