Planting time in northeast Nebraska where I live can start as early as February in a warm, dry year like 1968 for oats, back in the days when most farmers planted oats. And it can run as late as the Fourth of July, like 1979, when our newly planted soybeans were hailed out twice in June, and we planted black oil sunflowers for the first time as a replacement crop. Unfortunately, both of these extreme planting times didn’t pan out.
In 1968, our area received about 10 inches of precipitation all year, so our oats barely made 20 bushels per acre. And the sunflowers were destroyed in early October in 1979 because of an ice storm that was coupled with gusty winds, taking the plants to the ground.
Dealing with weather woes and extremes is nothing new for farmers. During the years when I was farming full time, I can recall numerous occasions when we planted soybeans late into June, especially in lowland, rain-soaked fields along Bow Creek. Sometimes, those late-planted fields did well. Other times, they were a total bust.
Timing these days has changed. For many farmers, if the crop isn’t planted in early to mid-April, it is panic time. In my part of the state, however, it isn’t that unheard of to receive snow in May. In fact, there was one year in the early-1980s when we received a foot of wet snow on April 30 and May 1.
I shouldn’t even begin to talk about planting breakdowns. With my more-than-experienced machinery, I had heated discussions with broken-down pieces of equipment that couldn’t talk back to me.
But no planting story that I have personally can match up to something my dad experienced when I was quite young. On a humid, windy day in early May in the 1970s, Dad was planting corn in a large field with half-mile rows with his four-row IHC 400 Cyclo planter, pulled by our open-air Farmall 560 diesel tractor, and our hired hand was disking ahead of the planter. I was feeding chickens in the late afternoon at home and noticed a dark, greenish cloud moving toward us from the southwest, just behind my view of the tractors and the dust more than a mile to the south. It looked as if the storm was going to strike directly at where the men were working. It was a tornado coming in fast.
I headed to the house and explained the situation to my mother. We went to the basement for shelter, but we were worried about Dad and the hired hand. Dad saw the cloud, too. The hired hand came to the end of the field and took shelter on an abandoned farmstead nearby. Dad was stuck in the middle of the field when the storm struck, so he jumped off the 560 and hung onto the rear tires from beneath the tractor while the wind, dust and debris pelted him from all sides. Both men survived the ordeal unscathed. But when Dad drove the tractor to the other end of the field where the pickup was still parked in place, tin from the roof of the neighbor’s barn nearby littered the ground all around the pickup. Yet, the pickup was left untouched.
So, anything I could come up with for planting time woes could never top that experience from my dad.