Ohio Farmer

Farmers are gearing up for earlier spring planting.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer

March 1, 2024

7 Min Read
Gary Wilson carrying a bale of hay and smiling
GARY WILSON: In recent years, Gary Wilson has watched his soil in northwest Ohio warm up quicker, allowing him to get corn planted sooner with faster germination. Courtesy of the Wilson family

What was at first considered a one- or two-year phenomenon has turned into an expectation for many Ohio growers who are gearing up for an earlier spring planting.

As farmers make final 2024 cropping decisions and prepare for planting season, Ohio Farmer caught up seventh-generation farmer Gary Wilson of Jenera, just south of Findlay, and grower Fred Yoder of Plain City to hear about their 2024 outlook. Both had their best yields last year and are aiming high again while farming with their sons, Mitch and Josh, respectively.

Gary Wilson

In recent years, Wilson has watched his soil in northwest Ohio warm up quicker, allowing him to get corn planted sooner with faster germination.

“I think climate change is a real thing that can give farmers a chance to get started earlier in the spring — it’s not definite, but it seems to be a trend,” says Wilson, who farms mostly a 50-50 split between corn and soybeans, with a few acres of wheat and a small pasture for 35 head of sheep and 20 head of goats. He also raises 17 head of freezer beef.

“The growing season is a little bit longer,” he says. “I heard someone say this is probably like what Tennessee had 50 years ago.”

But Wilson disagrees with anyone who says they can change climate change. “Climate has been changing since the start of time — everything is going to continue to change. You’ve got to adapt to the changes and look for the opportunities in your seed, pesticide control and do your best job of trying to get the best price for the best result.”

Wilson no-tills soybeans and uses light tillage with corn because of heavier clay soils. Last year, he planted Plenish soybeans for a premium of about $1.85 per bushel, but he is planting conventional beans this year. “The premium is not as large this year; it kind of comes and goes with demand,” he says.

In years past, he’s also taken advantage of premiums for non-GMO beans. “I remember about 10 years ago, beans were really high — $16 to $17 a bushel — and we were getting $3 premiums for non-GMO,” Wilson says. “Gone are the days, but every year you have to analyze crops and look for new opportunities.”

He mainly plants wheat so he can follow it with sorghum-sudangrass, a summer annual grass that will take the heat and is drought tolerant. “We plant in July and bale and wrap in September,” he says.

It makes excellent forage for his freezer beef cattle. “It is sweet and palatable, and we finish the beef with whole shelled corn for about 50 established customers,” Wilson adds.

His wheat crop averaged a record 100 bushels per acre. “There was nothing special done — but we had a dry spring, and we didn't even apply fungicide, which was unusual,” he says, noting that a neighbor down the road, utilizing hog manure, averaged 130 bushels of wheat.

While Wilson follows his wheat with sorghum-sudangrass, he says there’s quite a bit of double cropping in his area with some growers reporting 40-bushel soybeans after a July planting.

He’s optimistic for the future because “yields have been very, very good, and I don’t expect that to change,” he adds. With 220-bushel-per-acre corn and 60-bushel beans — the best recorded on the farm —he credits the weather, genetics and soil testing that helps apply prescription crop inputs with calculated precision.

“It wasn’t just our farm; all the farms around us seem to have had high-yielding, high-quality crops,” he says. “Unfortunately, prices are going in the wrong direction, and cash rent is not slowing down. Even so, as margins tighten, farmers are looking for more acres.”

Fred Yoder

A couple years ago Yoder, a fourth-generation farmer, started planting some of his soybeans before corn, and it has rewarded him well with record yields.

“We plant corn when the ground is warmer, and it works well,” says Yoder, who raises 1,600 acres of corn and soybeans northwest of Columbus.

Being a precision planter dealer, he and his son bought a used planter last year and are equipping it with precision technology. They are adapting to climate change by using two planters to put corn and soybeans in at the same time.

“We hope to really enhance our productivity,” he says. “When I was growing up, we planted from the first of May to the end of June — two months. Now, with this capacity, we’re hoping to plant in a 10-day window for optimum yields.”

Courtesy of Randall Reeder - Fred Yoder in a field of crops

They'll plant in the middle of April if it’s dry, but they will not plant if soil conditions are not fit. Record corn and soybean yields in 2023 are attributed to cover crops and timely rains.

The farm has been in no-till for 30 years and started incorporating cover crops 10 years ago. Today, about 800 acres have cover crops, and they are looking to try out new mixes.

“I want to purchase winter pea cover crop seeds for 40 to 45 acres if available at a decent price,” says Yoder, who has had good luck with cereal rye. “We’d like to experiment with some winter peas after soybeans to see if it might create some additional nitrogen for the following corn crop. We had tried winter peas in the past but were concerned about the ability to overwinter. However, we’ve found they can overwinter pretty good, especially with the milder winters we’ve had in the past few years.”

Despite market fluctuation, they plan to stick to a 50-50 crop mix. “A couple of years ago, we went all soybeans at my son Josh’s urging, but it really messes up our rotation, so we're back to 50-50,” Yoder says.

A big change on the farm has been the elimination of a preplant nitrogen application. “It’s best for the environment, and we can eliminate 40 to 50 pounds of nitrogen without affecting yield,” he says, while noting they added a product called Source, which is a microbiome activator that gives plants access to the existing nitrogen and phosphorus in the field.

Its goal is to improve nutrient efficiency and reduce dependency on synthetic fertilizer. Source activates microbes at the root zone, triggering them to fix nitrogen and solubilize phosphorus, making nutrients available to the plant. “It’s not a live biological; we feel those biologicals are already there. We’re enhancing their growth and value,” Yoder says.

Yoder is conditioning his soils and making them more resilient with a higher residue on top and additional biological activity underground, he says.

“We have earthworms like we’ve never had before by raising our organic matter,” he says. “Just a 1% bump in organic matter means you can hold an extra 25,000 gallons, at least, of water and that works in your favor in a dry year and in a wet year. An additional 1% of organic matter will get you an extra capacity of 25,000 gallons of water that can be absorbed and held.”

They’re optimistic about productivity with the technology now available. “We have tremendously better genetics than we’ve had in years past,” Yoder adds. “We can optimize yields and productivity as good as anybody in the country using less fertilizer per bushel, while raising yields and a high-quality product. You can increase nutrient density with more biological activity in the soil. We’re on the right track.”

That high optimism is slightly stifled with recent corn and soybean prices at multiyear lows. “But I'm a firm believer in cycles — we're searching for our bottom now, so the only way to go is up,” Yoder says. “I'm cautiously optimistic it will cycle in that direction, but for right now, we have a lot of unpriced grain.”

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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