The fields across Butler County are undergoing their annual spring transformation, about to burst from gray and brown to lush green.
Farmers have been watching the weather and the calendar with increasing anticipation.
Now, planting is on. Last year, 150,000 acres were planted to corn in Butler County. Corn plus soybean production and livestock the crops feed, are critical to the state and county's economy.
Local farmers Steve Barlean and Greg Fiala were in full planting mode beginning the middle of last week. They answered a few questions about the planting season as they got started in the fields south of David City and west of Brainard this past weekend.
Describe the farmer’s lead up to planting. When does the plan come together, and how do you decide how much to plant or to go with more or less?
Barlean: Farmers started planning this year’s planting already during last years harvest, items like yield, harvestability, plant health, moisture content, and more, all go into choosing which hybrids to plant.
As for whether to plant more or less corn or soybeans, items such as crop and input prices play an important role.
Fiala: Planting corn after corn costs more because you have to use more fertilizer, seed that is traited to protect against rootworm (triple-stack, or smart-stacks) costs about $30-40 higher per bag, and conventional tillers have to make more tillage passes.
Corn seed costs more than bean seed per acre to plant, about $80 to $100 per acre of irrigated corn, $65 to $80 for dryland corn seed traited for above ground pests, and $110 to $130 per acre for corn for planting corn after corn(traited for above and below ground pests).
Bean seed costs anywhere from 40-60$/acre. Corn makes 2-4 more yield, but price is 2.5 times less right now. Many, many factors to consider in making the decisions on what to plant.
Describe your plantings of corn and soybeans this year and the reasons behind your decisions.
Barlean: This year I intend to plant the same split as the past. I have a 50/50 rotation of corn and soybeans and although this year I believe more beans may have been a short term smart move, I decided that for me, I didn’t want to mess up my rotation for the future.
Fiala: This year my rotation will have a little more beans than corn,(last year more corn), but we usually just rotate from corn to beans and then back to corn except for some hilly ground that needs more organic matter. On that farm we are putting corn after corn.
What are the preparations you have to do before you begin planting.
Barlean: Getting all the equipment ready, choosing hybrids, deciding how much fertilizer is needed and where, as well as applying it. planning what herbicides will be needed for weed pressure on each farm as well as what hybrids work with each. Then applying it, dirtwork to fix any washouts, etc. and any tillage needed before planting
How does planting affect your everyday life, as in your family, work schedule, etc?
Barlean: During planting, planting becomes your single focus until its done. I’m not saying other things don’t get done, but they usually happen around your planting schedule.
How long will it take you to plant if you don’t have interruptions by rain? How closely do you watch the weather and what kind of hours do you put in to get planting done ahead of a rain/wet period.
I’ve survived quite a few planting seasons, and haven’t had two that ended up the same. There tends to be a magic date of May 10 as the ideal date that corn should be planted by and getting it in by then has always been my goal. Soybeans have a little more leeway and can be planted later. The later it gets the longer the hours in the tractor usually are. I personally dislike planting after dark so it will have to be getting late in the year to find me planting after dark.
Fiala: I like to get the corn in before the first half of May and the beans in by the end of May. Sooner if the weather permits.
Do you recall any particular years when you had a good/poor/challenging planting season? Any key advice they gave you that still sticks?
Barlean: The last two years have been horrible planting years because of excess rain. Some fields had a plant/drown out/replant/repeat scenario go on. Last year I gave up replanting waterholes on July 4.
One thing my Dad always told me when I used to get stressed because I wasn’t getting planted due to weather was “your granddad never considered planting corn until May 10 back in the days before herbicide”.
Back them you waited for the weeds to all come up so you could kill them once before planting. Another story I’ve heard from a neighbor was that you knew it was time to plant corn if you could drop your drawers and sit on the bare earth without your butt getting cold. Personally I use a soil thermometer, it’s less dirty.
Fiala: True, every year is different, some go pretty smoothly, but most years there’s a few hiccups, be it major breakdowns, or major weather events that slow you down.
One year, I think 1981, we only got 40 acres planted by Mother’s day, then we never got back into the fields till about June 4 or 5 planting corn and then beans. I remember putting lights on the tractors so we could work thru the nights. Don’t remember if it was that year or not, but remember finishing planting beans on my grandpa’s place one year on July 4 and telling my grandpa that it’s probably too late, and that I probably wasting seed and time. He told me, “June, July is OK , --August is a little late!”
When you are done planting, what do you do? What’s next up on the list?
Barlean: Weed and bug control, irrigation, get all the stuff done that was neglected during planting. Get ready for harvest.
Fiala: Things don’t slow down too much till irrigation is done in late August. Then you have about a month to get the combine ready for harvest, usually that means rebuilding or replacing augers, chains, bearings, rebuilding rotor or cylinder and concaves. Anything that might have been wearing out last year and you know it won’t make it another harvest. Or you could just buy new, but with low corn and beans prices , not many new combines are going off the dealer lots.
What has changed in planting with advanced technology?
Fiala: A lot of people spray the herbicide broadcast now, and it used to be banded behind the planter then cultivate the fields. Many farmers practice “ no till” now, which saves fuel, saves time, builds organic matter and conserves moisture.
We used to use dangerous insecticides in furrow with the planter to protect corn plants from rootworms, now most everyone uses traited corn that protects itself from insects (rootworm, wireworm, cutworm, and corn borer, etc) Much safer.
Planters today are made to be more efficient, quicker to refill and easier to set depth, down pressure, packer wheel pressure, some can even change populations on the go, and some farmers have auto guidance to make it easier and less stressful to plant.
On May 4, the Ponca Remembrance Walk will arrive in David City on its historic journey across the state.
Organizers estimate that about 35 people will be coming to David City. Walkers will travel from Pawnee Park in Columbus along U.S. 81, Nebraska 64 and Nebraska 15.
A local committee has been organizing a dinner for the visitors at Butler County Healthcare Center. The site is convenient for the group’s camp to be set up in the City Park. Arrangements also are being made for breakfast on May 5.
The walk is scheduled to begin April 29 and end May 11 in Barneston. Other stops are Verdigre, Neligh, Newman Grove, Genoa, Columbus, Seward/Milford, Crete, Wilber and Beatrice.
In the 1870s, the Ponca were forced to walk from their homeland in northern Nebraska to Oklahoma. Treaties made with the U.S. government ceded Ponca land to another tribe.
In March tribal chairman Larry Wright Jr. told the Columbus Telegram that it’s hard to overstate the pain caused by the forced removal.
“We’re talking about a historical trauma,” said Wright. “Having to give up where our people are buried, where our medicine grew, our way of life.”
Wright and Randy Teboe, the tribes director of cultural affairs, organized the walk, a 273-mile journey their ancestors made.
“This means honoring my ancestors and to walk in their footsteps,” said Teboe. “To go over the suffering as they did.”
The Ponca Tribe hopes to share its journey with host community residents.
“What we would like to do is invite the community out in the evening to learn about the Ponca tribe, learn about the history of the Ponca tribe and to learn about our culture,” Teboe told the Telegram. “We wanted to make sure all tribal members are involved and the non-native community, as well.”
The trek was prompted by a series of events that came together this year. The Nebraska Trails Foundation was transforming an old railroad line into a 20-mile biking and walking trail that runs from Beatrice to Barneston when they learned it nearly the same path taken by the Ponca. The foundation contacted the tribe and said they wanted to donate the land to them.
“That was a good honor for them to think of us like that,” said Wright.
Another development was approval of a historical marker between Seward and Milford exits on Interstate 80, where Chief Standing Bear’s daughter died along the route to Oklahoma. She was one of nine tribe members who died during the journey and is buried in a cemetery north of the interstate.
“I thought it would take years,” said Wright. “They got an outpouring of support, and it was approved quickly. We’ll do a dedication this year.”
Wright said the journey was appropriate for Nebraska’s 150th anniversary, which is also the 140th anniversary of the tribe’s removal.
“I don’t think you can talk about Nebraska without talking about the Ponca tribe,” said Teboe. “We were one of the first natives of Nebraska.”
In 2008, a 94-year-old Ponca man from Oklahoma visited the Nebraska tribe. His father was a young boy when the tribe was removed.
Columbus Telegram reporter Christina Lieffring contributed to this report.