"It looks like a year to tighten your belt and shave what expenses you can, put the crop in and hope for the best," says Andy Zarecor, who farms with his father Mack near Yorkville, Tenn.
Zarecor says the 2020 planting season offers unique challenges with depressed commodity markets, the coronavirus and weather.
"For the most part, it’s business as usual this spring. Despite the pandemic, the show must go on as planting season has arrived," Zarecor says in an online interview.
He says farmers are adjusting to COVID-19 limitations, which may have changed the way they work with dealers but has not stopped the process.
"Everyone we deal with, as far as inputs are concerned, has remained open and made changes to accommodate their customers," he says. "We’re doing more online parts look-up and utilizing that and curbside pickup at several places."
He says some dealers may have seen limitations in nitrogen fertilizer supplies. "There’s been some tightness in the NH3 supply, due in part probably to the virus affecting loading at the plants," he says. "I think they’ve caught up some with this rainy spell."
West Tennessee has experienced persistent rainfall that has delayed planting for many producers.
"As of today, April 14, we probably have one-third of the corn crop planted; none of it is up yet, which is probably good if it gets as cold tonight as forecast."
He says farmers have planted only a few soybean acres around west Tennessee. "We haven’t planted any, but we’ll probably try a few in the next week to 10 days."
It's too soon to plant cotton. "With 32 forecast tonight, we’re going to need several days of warm weather before soil temps even approach cotton planting."
They are adjusting acreage based on commodity markets.
"We are planning a significant increase in corn acres and a small increase in soybeans with cotton dropping noticeably. Hopefully, we get everything in with no prevent plant this year."
Zarecor says the change in crop mix was in the works before the virus upended markets. "For the most part, this mix was planned before the virus. We had held out some hope that cotton would rebound after the trade deal was signed, but along came the virus to stamp out those hopes."
They had a significant number of prevented planting acres last year and instead of leaving the ground fallow planted cover on some of it.
"We’ve been pleased with how the prevented planting acres that were cover-cropped have planted this spring," he says. "We had little erosion, which you might expect on fallowed ground that was bare; it’s made for a very mellow seedbed that’s been easy to drop right into and no-till."
He says cover crops seeded last fall did not fare as well. "Cover crops following last year's harvest left some to be desired. The early cool weather we had last November put them off to a slow start and they’ve not amassed the biomass you would expect. They also have not provided as much grazing for the cowherd as we would normally have."
In spite of the setback, a cover crop and cattle grazing program makes economic sense, he says. "We will continue to use cover crops to some degree in a 'normal' year (whatever normal seems to be now). We feel the benefits considerably outweigh the cost of establishment and managing termination in the spring, especially when you consider the grazing opportunity they provide our cowherd."
Zarecor says marketing poses another challenge as they plant the 2020 crops. "No doubt, marketing this year’s crop will be difficult. I doubt even a crystal ball could predict how the future of this pandemic will play out."
He says some marketing opportunities were available earlier. "Before this started, we had some opportunities to do okay marketing wheat that’s growing now and some corn, but with several wet springs in a row, we tend to be hesitant to sell a lot of a crop before it’s planted."
Zarecor outlined some of these same marketing issues last fall in aDelta Farm Press article https://bit.ly/34GxH0n.
The coronavirus may have added to marketing woes, changed purchase options and altered crop mix a bit, but the basics of reduced tillage, cover crops and maintaining the cattle and grazing option remain a mainstay for the Zarecor farm.
A bit of belt-tightening and hoping for the best might be as good a prescription as any to get this crop in the ground.