SODA SPRINGS, Idaho — Southeast Idaho dryland farmers anticipate planting spring wheat much earlier than normal to capitalize on soil moisture before it’s depleted by warm and windy weather.
Planting ahead of schedule, however, elevates their risk of frost damage.
Sid Cellan, likes to plant on April 25, usually well ahead of other Caribou County growers. This season, he expects to drill a few weeks earlier than ever before.
He’s already equipped his harrower, planning to seal in his soil moisture following a timely shower in the forecast. He said snow has melted from fields and exposed soil earlier than normal.
“I don’t want to plant this early. It’s just one of those things where we’re at the mercy of the weather,” Cellan said. “We’re drying out, getting in the low 50s every day but freezing every night.”
Cellan fears ammonia fertilizer may leach if soil temperatures are too low at planting. But his chief concern is the increased potential for frost when his spring wheat reaches the critical flowering stage.
He’s been pleased that his fall wheat has sustained little winter kill. Other growers in his area have also made favorable reports about the survival of their fall wheat, which is further along in development and can withstand spring frosts.
Cleston Godfrey, a Caribou County dryland farmer whose fields are located at a higher elevation, predicts he’ll plant two to three weeks ahead of normal, absent the arrival of heavy showers to push planting back toward a more customary timeframe.
“We’ve had some of our best crops ever when we’ve planted early, but there are some inherent risks of getting crops too far along and having frost timing hurt them,” Godfrey said.
For the time being, Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Phil Morrisey said soil moisture is ample, and Eastern Idaho has well exceeded its usual March precipitation.
“We know there are those areas that don’t have low-elevation snow cover. The moisture is in the soil, but sunny days and windy days, even though it’s cool and early spring, the moisture can evaporate pretty quickly,” Morrisey said.
Dryland farmers in Southeast Idaho’s Rockand and Arbon valleys are also bracing for an early planting.
“We’ve got all of our soil prepped, a lot of discing and moldboard plowing, probably a couple of weeks ahead of last year,” said Rockland dryland farmer Adam Permann, who will plant safflower on the prepared beds.
He’ll plant his no-till spring wheat first, probably about three weeks ahead of schedule.
“If you plant early, I guess you get a good start, as long as you don’t get a frost,” Permann said.
Arbon Valley dryland farmer Larin Ward will likely start planting spring wheat within another two weeks.
“Ideally, you like to be done about mid-May,” Ward said. “With us, if you get it in too early, you’re really likely to freeze it. We can get frosts about every month of the year out here.”