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Planting starts early

File Photo: Dean Christopherson loads the hoppers on his planter while planting corn at his Bigelow Township field south of Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- The rain held off for longer than expected Friday, allowing farmers from throughout the region to get in several extra hours of planting time.

It was especially welcome for farmers like Dean Christopherson of rural Worthington, who started on his first field of corn planting Thursday. He ended up staying in the field until 11:30 Thursday night, and was right back out there by 7 a.m. Friday.

As of Friday morning, Christopherson had planted about 130 acres.

"I plan on finishing another field," he said during a brief break. Christopherson said though he started planting a little later than some in the region, it's still about four days earlier than he's ever planted in the past.

"The soil conditions are so good and with the forecast for rain, why wait?" he said.

North of town, in the Reading area, Phil Sievers also got started with corn planting on Thursday.

"We're probably 30 percent done," said Sievers, adding they planted 160 acres by the time they stopped at 8:30 Thursday night. On Friday morning, they were out in the field applying chemical before the rains came.

For Sievers, April 22 is the earliest he recalls ever being in the field planting corn.

"I usually don't like to get excited until after the 25th of April," he said. "That's a personal choice. Everybody has to live with their decision. The right thing to do might be to have it all in the ground now -- it may not be. It's like a crap shoot, you roll the dice and hope for a lucky number."

According to long-term crop data, April 28 is the date by which farmers should plant to achieve optimal yields. However, the window actually extends from April 21 to May 6, according to Liz Stahl, University of Minnesota Extension Crops Specialist at the Worthington Regional Center.

"We're still on that early end," said Stahl, adding the National Agriculture Statistics Service recorded this spring as one of the earliest planting starts on record.

"A lot of people were waiting until late last week or this week (to plant)," Stahl said. "There's been a lot of activity when you get farther east -- a big dent has been done on the corn in those areas."

Despite the earlier-than-normal corn planting that's been taking place, Stahl isn't too worried about the potential for frost.

"At this point, you'd need a pretty significant frost -- it would have to be deeper into the soil," she said. "At this point in the game, I wouldn't worry."

Still, weather anomalies have been known to happen.

Sievers recalled that on about May 24, 1963, with corn about six inches tall in the field, a frost occurred and nearly everything had to be replanted.

"The yield back then, the corn planted on Memorial Day weekend was better than the corn planted in April," he added.

And then there was April 26-27, 1976, when Sievers woke up in the morning to find a three-foot-tall snow drift in front of his planter.

"It was unreal," he said. "We just left (the planter) sit there and let it thaw out. Believe it or not, the corn turned out fine that year."

Farmers certainly don't want to see snow anymore this spring, and for those who are finished with corn planting, the rains will be good. It's people like Christopherson and Sievers, however, who will be hoping the rain doesn't stick around for too long.

"I imagine the guys that are done planting, they are glad they're done," said Sievers. "They're talking rain way into Monday, and rain maybe by next weekend."

"It would be perfect to get just a little bit of rain right now to get that herbicide activated," added Stahl.

In another week or so, those farmers who are finished planting corn will move right into soybean planting.

"We want to get them in on a timely manner too for optimal yield," Stahl said, adding that maximum yield potential is around May 1, and drops to 99 percent by May 5.

Planting before then is a bit more risky.

"You can get a lot of seed in the ground in a short period of time," she said. "If you're planting in a good seed bed and we've got warmer weather, I wouldn't have issues with planting beans at all next week."

Christopherson, who is also president of Nobles County Farm Bureau, urged all farmers to have a safe spring.

"Safety is of utmost importance," he said. "Accidents happen so quick."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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