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Early planting in 2019

In-season updates “from the field” in Hardin, Weakley, and Montgomery counties
Story and photos by: Sarah Geyer 5/24/2019


Planters rolling through river bottom fields near Savannah in April is an unusual sight for the region and a welcomed opportunity to get a head start on crops not only for Hardin County farmers, but for most farmers across the state.
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Unseasonably dry conditions in late March and throughout April widened the typically narrow planting window for Tennessee farmers this year, creating both opportunities and challenges for producers and member Co-ops.  Read about three of them below:

Unexpected early planting in Hardin County river bottoms

On April 1, planters were rolling on the river bottoms near Savannah — an unusual sight for residents and a welcome surprise for Hardin County producers.

While most of the state’s farmers are often in the fields by mid-April, most producers who farm those river bottoms plan on

planting in May.

“Those farmers are depending on that land for their bread and butter, so they have to respect the river and what it can do,” says Scott Kelley, assistant manager of First Farmers Cooperative’s Savannah branch. “After May, we don’t normally have issues with flooding. Before that, it’s possible. Every once in a while we can get out early and plant, but we never plan on it.”

Kelley says that being able to plant on April 1 has offered farmers much-needed optimism following early spring’s damaging flood. The floodwater reached near-record levels of 395 feet and remained for several weeks.

The damage it caused required a lot of clean up, says Kelley. Farmers rushed to repair pivots and remove debris, including parts of houses, from farmland. Just a week after the waters receded, Kelley says the conditions were perfect for planting, and farmers wasted no time getting in the fields.

“Everything tells us that for higher yields we need earlier planting dates,” says Kelley. “So these farmers have a good foot up on great corn yields this year for sure.”

Weakley’s new manager greeted with early NH3 rush

When Paul Wilson started his new job on March 1 as manager of Weakley Farmers Cooperative, he anticipated a month to prepare for the annual rush for anhydrous ammonia (NH3), a popular nitrogen source for the region’s farmers.

“For two weeks, all you can concentrate on is getting those nurse tanks filled and out to the grower because they have a [narrow] window of time to get it down,” says Wilson. “During that time, anhydrous is king, and all hands are on deck. We even run shifts through the night during the two or three peak days.”

March began as a typical wet month, says Wilson, but that changed unexpectedly with a 10-day-plus stretch without rain. That meant it was go time. But it came three weeks earlier than anyone had planned.

“We had to have anhydrous immediately and a lot of it,” says Wilson. “So we decided to have all the rail cars shipped at once and risk the extra costs. If you think paying extra fees for cars is expensive, let a group of farmers show up and you don’t have any of the product they’ve prepaid for. That gets really expensive.”

Wilson and his team planned to empty the rail cars as they arrived and use the trucks to supply at the end.

“We were running through the rail cars so fast that we needed all the trucks, too,” says Wilson. “We ended up running through the original order and had to place another truck order.”

The new manager says he and his team spent a few tense days depending only on rail cars for product, but they were able to keep tanks filled and growers in the fields. 

“Being able to make the necessary adjustments to fulfill our customers’ needs was a game changer,” says Wilson. “This crew accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion.”

Partnership takes precision ag to next level for Corn Silk Farms

In a family of farmers, Sterling Edwards admits he’s a bit more into numbers than the rest. And he has more than a decade of quality yield data to prove it.

Quite a feat considering they – Sterling, father Donnie, brother Bradley, nephew Adam, and son Sam Gray – raise 11,000 acres of corn, wheat, and soybeans on farmland in Robertson and Montgomery counties and in Kentucky, with their headquarters, Corn Silk Farms, in Adams.

“I’ve built maps of our corn acreage to help with planting and fertility decisions, but the system I was using wasn’t designed to do what I really wanted,” says Edwards. “My goal was to have everything we do working together based on yield potential.”

Edwards says he knew this type of undertaking required help, and he found it last year at a field day. The farmer attended the event after receiving an invitation from Cody Greene, agronomist with Montgomery Farmers Cooperative. The two men struck up a friendship, and a working partnership soon followed. Together, the pair took Edwards’s precision ag efforts to another level.

“Using Incompass and WinField’s R7 and Field Forecasting Tool,” says Greene, “we re-evaluated his data and established best, middle, and worst yield potential zones for each cornfield.”

Based on these yield potential zones, Greene and Edwards created variable-rate recommendations for potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen, and seed on 100 percent of the family’s 3,500 acres of cornfields.

“Cody has really helped me do what I do better,” says Edwards. “This information allows us to be even more efficient. And with our thin margins, we have got to be as efficient as we can with our bottom line and the environment.”

Stay in-the-know with #Plant19

#Plant19 is an easy and interactive way to keep up with this year’s planting season. You can find tagged posts on various social media platforms from Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, many member Co-ops, and farmers across the state and beyond.

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