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DeKalb County farmers ready for busy spring

Mike Schweitzer begins attaching a field sprayer to a tractor Wednesday while preparing for the upcoming planting season in Malta.
Mike Schweitzer begins attaching a field sprayer to a tractor Wednesday while preparing for the upcoming planting season in Malta.

Steve Bemis is looking forward to working 16-hour days again.

In a few weeks, farmers across DeKalb County will be preparing their fields and planting crops from sunrise to sunset.

"It gets pretty hectic in the spring," Bemis said. "But that's good. We like to be hectic. It means we're getting our work done."

Bemis, who grows corn and soybeans, said he hopes the cooler conditions don't affect his planting season too much.

Farming more than 2,600 acres of land about five miles southwest of DeKalb with his father, Bemis said he would like to start planting the second week in April and have all his corn planted by the first week in May.

He calls the third week in May "drop-dead day," or the time he switches from planting corn to soybeans, which he said can handle a later planting. His operation plants 90 percent corn and 10 percent beans, and he hopes the weather will allow him to keep it that way this year.

A higher proportion of the cropland throughout DeKalb County is dedicated to soybeans, according to the DeKalb County Farm Bureau. Of the county's 370,772 acres of farmland, corn is grown on 233,500 acres and soybeans on 92,000 acres. The rest of the acreage is devoted to other crops.

Although Bemis said he is slightly concerned about the lack of warmer weather and the frozen ground, farmer Mike Schweitzer said he isn't getting too worked up right now.

"We've got a couple weeks yet," he said. "But the weather will play a big role in what happens."

Schweitzer, who farms ground from Malta to Esmond and grows corn and soybeans, said very few farmers started planting in March. Ideally, they like to get out in their fields between April 10 and 15, he said.

Although the colder weather could potentially affect the planting season, both Bemis and Schweitzer said the precipitation is another concern.

Last summer's drought left fields parched, so Bemis was glad to get some moisture in the soil from the recent snow and rainfalls.

Schweitzer agreed it's always good for the ground to be moist, but too much precipitation can be an issue, too.

"It's important to have a nice warm, moist, but not wet, seed bed," he said. "You kind of walk a fine line."

Although there's still snow cover on some of the fields, DeKalb County Farm Bureau Director of Information Mariam Wassmann said flooding hasn't been much of an issue this season.

But when it comes to weather, farmers don't rule out anything.

"We just kind of take it a day at a time and farmers do the best they can to work around the weather," Wassmann said.

Schweitzer said the ideal weather conditions for planting include air temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees and soil temperatures around 50 degrees.

Both farmers said the average yield for them at harvest time in October is about 200 bushels of corn an acre, which Schweitzer said hasn't been compromised yet based on the weather.

"At this point, I certainly don't think we've given up any yield potential," he said. "But things can change in a hurry."

DeKalb County farming statistics

• 407,040 acres of land in county, about 90 percent is farmland

• 2,014 total farms in county on 370,772 acres

• Average size farming operation: 1,166 acres 

• 950 farmers and 2,665 land owners generate about $447 million in sales

• Average corn yield in 2012: 159 bushels an acre

• Average annual value of corn: $260 million

• Average soybean yield in 2012: 51 bushels an acre

• Average annual value of soybeans: $66 million


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