After record breaking warm weather in December, it seems as if winter may have finally arrived.
People often ask me, what do farmers do in the winter? Most are surprised that winter can actually be a very busy time of the year for farmers. It is a time of reflection, monitoring, and planning for farmers.
After the tough growing season of 2021, this will certainly be a winter for reflection. While the weather is out of our control, there may have been some decisions which made the year better or worse for some of our farmers. It is a time to think back on decisions of what was planted, which varieties were chosen, and what management decisions were made. Some of these decisions may have had an impact on how weather affected the crop, and it’s a time to decide if adjustments need to be made next year. This will certainly lead to some tough decisions, since none of us can accurately predict what kind of weather the summer of 2022 will hold.
The record-breaking heat in December I mentioned has complicated things even further. For those growing wheat, warm weather has left them uncertain about what to expect in the spring. The main concern we have with warm winter weather on wheat is the increase of the number of tillers per plant. Too many tillers and stalk strength can decrease to a point where the wheat lodges (falls over) later in the season. Too many tillers can also cause increased susceptibility to disease and decreased yield; due to increased competition for fertilizer and other resources. By late December, wheat should have been lying dormant through the cold of winter. For these farmers, they will be playing wait and see. While we all wonder about what will happen, sometimes we have to sit back and remember not to stress about things we can’t control.
For farmers growing summer grains or tobacco, now is the planning time. For tobacco growers, it is time to prep the greenhouses for tobacco plants. After all, tobacco will be started in greenhouses in just a few short weeks. Back in the office, it is time to make decisions about grain crops, like whether to plant soybeans, corn, milo, or something else, and what varieties to select. As mentioned before, this may be a daunting task after the tough year we just had. The fields aren’t quiet either. For some, it is time to apply lime to get the soil pH right. Others have a winter crop, such as rye or wheat. Now is the time those crops have to be scouted and managed for insects, disease, or weeds, just like any of the summer crops.
There is also activity at the Extension office. Winter is a time for meetings. The Extension office offers certification classes and research updates to help farmers stay on the cutting edge. NC State and NC A&T State University lead the way with agricultural research, not only for North Carolina, but for the country. North Carolina Cooperative Extension is your connection to that research and its results right here in Lee County. Extension Specialists perform countless research trials year upon year to compile data that backs and supports all recommendations given to the farmers of Lee County, and that information can be gained directly from the source as the specialist visits the county and present their findings. Agriculture contributes close to 300 million dollars to the economy here in Lee County, and is the state’s number one industry. Research conducted at the universities provides solutions and ideas to help farmers produce better crops, which help the industry to continue to grow.
Farmers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from Extension though. There are horticulture programs, which provide resources for the home garden or lawn, 4-H programs, which support and promote youth development, and family and consumer science programs, which provide information on health and nutrition. If you haven’t checked out what Extension has to offer, or if it has just been a while since you saw us, stop by and give us a visit. I’m sure we will have something for you too.
Please note, the Lee County Tobacco Production Meeting will be held on at 9 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 21. at the McSwain Center. A fumigant training (Z credit) will be offered around 12:30 p.m. for those that need credit.
Mitch Williams is the agriculture agent — field crops and livestock for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.