03/21/2013 14:47

            A February 27 press release announces that USDA is surveying US farmers about their planting intentions. We all might do well to pause and think about what goes into planting intentions.

            When we look out at the snow still on the ground and our recent snowfalls and hear reports of record snowfalls in the Midwest, we hope that it means that farmers and gardeners alike can count on relief from the drought of previous years. Maybe not! “The snow may help ease the drought some, but it’s unlikely to have a big impact because it’s sitting largely on frozen ground, especially in the upper Plains. As snow on the surface melts, the water is likely to run off into rivers and streams instead of soaking into the rock-hard ground,” reports Peggy Lowe in article entitled “Snow is No Drought Buster”, http://harvestpublicmedia.org.

            “That’s good news for those who depend on the many rivers and lakes that are near historic lows because of the drought,” continues Lowe reporting information from the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln Nebraska. “But it does little to help farmers who need the moisture to soak into the soil so that they can grow plants.”

            The reality is that even if all the snow melted into the ground, it wouldn’t break the drought. A foot of snow equals roughly an inch of rain – often less, and some Midwest areas are many inches short of precipitation with dry soils many feet in depth.

            Always the farmer must plan with uncertainty about the growing season including soil moisture, what tillage practices to use, what crops to plant, what seed to use, what nutrients need to be added to the soil, how early will conditions be right for planting, will rains come at the right time, what conditions will affect harvest, and what will be the market at harvest time. A big upfront investment in seed, soil amendments, and equipment costs is required. And the farmer depends on getting it right in order to make a living.

            Good conservation practices are important to landowners /producers because good soil and an adequate supply of water are essentials – and we depend on users of the land to preserve these essentials for the rest of us. With the backing of much research and experience, farmers choose tillage practices to suit individual circumstances taking advantage of technical assistance from NRCS/SWCD. But every new practice attempted has to prove itself and it often takes more than one growing season.

            Looking ahead to spring and a new growing season, we all need to do what we can to protect soil and water, support the efforts of farmers and gardeners who apply conservation practices, and respect the people who contribute to our agricultural economy.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 022713 (for publication on 030213 in the Journal-Standard, Freeport, Illinois). Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org