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Ready for success: 7 farmers share ideas for 2019 growing season

leightrail/Getty Images Planter working in a corn field with wind turbines on horizon
READY FOR PLANTING: After last year’s wet growing season, most farmers are eager to get back in the fields and turn the page.
Some farmers are making lots of changes while others are continuing what’s worked.

So, what do you have planned this growing season? Did you buy some new machinery? Are you trying some new seed? Maybe you got more acres under crop insurance?

No two farms are the same, especially in a region as diverse as the Northeast. So, American Agriculturist recently asked a group of farmers what new things they were trying this growing season.

As expected, answers varied greatly depending on the type of operation:

Bob Shearer, Lancaster County, Pa., 2018 Master Farmer. Not much is changing this year on Shearer’s farm in Lancaster County. “We’re pretty much staying the same, maybe a few less beans,” he says. “It just happens that it’s more rotational that we have less beans this year.”

Like most farmers, though, he’s waiting for the ground to dry up.

Bob Shearer, a 2018 Mid-Atlantic Master Farmer, inspects planting equipmentWAITING TO DRY OUT: Bob Shearer, a 2018 Mid-Atlantic Master Farmer, says he’s planting less soybeans this season, but his ground is still wet with many ruts.

“We might have to till some ground just to get rid of ruts,” he says. “This county was really wet when we harvested.”

Merle Stoltzfus, Lancaster County, Pa., crops. Same old, some old for Stoltzfus, who farms 140 acres and raises a few Angus on his farm.

“I think I’m doing alright. I finished my seed purchases,” he says. “I don’t think what happened last year is making me make any changes. Last year was last year.”

Mike and Sheilah Reskovac, Waltersburg, Pa., row crops. Mike Reskovac says this will be the first year they will not be trying any alternative crops. The Reskovacs farm more than 800 acres.

“The last two years we grew non-GMO dry yellow peas, sunflowers and rape seed. We had little success and are going to be sticking strictly with corn and soybeans,” he says. “We are also taking the few acres of hay that we had been making and planting them into crops as well. Also, we are planning on increasing the amount of both preplant and side-dress applications of nitrogen on corn to help increase our yields.”

Reskovac says they’ve also increased their crop insurance over the past few years.

Mark Anderson, New York, dairy farmer. Anderson has lots of changes in mind for this year’s growing season. He farms 2,350 acres — 1,200 acres of corn and 1,100 of hay — and he milks 1,350 cows.

“To be more efficient, we have entered an agreement with a neighbor. We are sharing our employees, our manure, planting and hay harvest equipment this spring,” he says.

Anderson also wants to inject manure on all his corn ground this spring as well as build a couple of manure pumps to maximize the existing drag hose system.

He also wants to rent land closer to the home farm; harvest all of the first-cutting haylage in four days for his lactating cows; store all first-cutting in silo bags; and plant 50% BMR corn.

Bruce Hollabaugh, Adams County, Pa., tree fruit. Hollabaugh, the production and field personnel manager for Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. in Biglerville, Pa., says he just wants some kinder weather for this year’s tree fruit season. Last season’s torrential rains caused lots of crop damage, especially to the farm’s apples, something he hopes to avoid this year.

He hopes that diversifying into other crops will provide a hedge against Mother Nature.

“In addition to what has grown to be a wide assortment of tree fruits, small fruits and vegetables, we’re expanding our vegetable production this year to incorporate a new selection of slightly less-common veggies to satisfy a growing CSA trade,” he says. “Crops such as rutabaga, romanesco, kale, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, leeks and fennel will round out our normal, somewhat traditional veggie production offering. We’re also going back to growing seedless melons, melons and some other novelty lopes.”

Bruce Hollabaugh holds two damaged apples in his hand from his 2018 cropMORE FRUITFUL CROP: Much of the Pennsylvania’s apple crop was damaged in 2018, including the apples at Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. in Biglerville. Bruce Hollabaugh says he’s diversifying into other crops as a hedge against the weather.

He also says they are ratcheting up their insect and disease management “in hopes of keeping disease and insect pests at bay while moderating and varying our chemical use.”

He’s also trying some new varieties of apples, pears and peaches.

“Nothing groundbreaking,” he says, “but after last season, we’re hoping for moderate weather patterns and a healthy crop of fruit to market.”

Chip Bowling, Charles County, Md., row crops. Bowling, who owns 700 acres and farms another 1,800 acres of rented land within a 15-mile radius of his home farm, says he’s shifting more acreage into soybeans, planting a little more hay to take advantage of high prices and doing away with his sorghum acres.

Bowling says the market for sorghum, which goes for bird seed in Pennsylvania and to the hog and poultry markets on Delmarva and in Virginia, is flooded and prices are bad.

“There is not demand for it right now,” he says.

Drew Haines, Middletown, Md., row crops. Haines, who came in first place nationally in the National Corn Growers Association Corn Yield Contest, says he isn’t changing a thing this year after seeing lots of success last year.

Drew Haines, who farms in Middletown, Md., takes a selfie from between lush rows of summer cornSTAYING THE SAME: Drew Haines, who farms in Middletown, Md., had a banner corn crop in 2018, so he’s sticking with the things he did last year for this coming growing season.

“As with every year, there is always something learned or we are not doing anything. Multiple applications of nitrogen and foliar this past year proved that it pays to spread it out more than the normal two-nitrogen and three-foliar we typically did in the past,” he says. “This past season we did three nitrogen passes and five foliar passes. It sure payed off. So, I think that’s one we will stick with.”

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