116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In a normal spring, it might take three weeks for the first tiny corn shoots to rise from the ground. But how about just one week?
That’s what Mark Heckman, 58, of West Liberty, was expecting for the corn he planted during the recent heat wave. Days of 80- and 90-degrees coupled with enough soil moisture from early May rains should give the corn seed perfect conditions to germinate quickly, he said.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever planted at 90 degrees and ample moisture,” he said. “It will probably be out of the ground in three days.”
It’s almost as if Mother Nature is making up for lost time after a cold, wet spring that delayed corn planting statewide by two weeks, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s May 9 crop report. Soybean planting was 12 days behind schedule.
It’s just another example of the hurry-up-and-wait — or this year wait-and-hurry-up — nature of farming.
Heckman, who grows corn and soybeans with his brothers, Kent Heckman and Kurt Heckman, as part of a family operation, has had to keep his anxiety in check this spring.
“It’s ingrained in you that you want to get as much sunlight so these crops can perform at their best,” he said.
But he was riding his Case IH planter last Tuesday night, T-shirt covered with dust, earbuds in to hear the phone and eyes on the planter’s computer screen, which tells him the density of seed in each row, soil compaction and the distance between each row.
The planter can be programmed to cut off seed and fertilizer when the planter crosses a waterway, which reduces waste and water pollution. A beeping sound lets him know when he’s getting close to the end of the row.
“There are more microprocessors on this planter than there probably were on the rocket that went to the moon,” he said.
Working with, not against the land is important to Heckman, who is active in Practical Farmers of Iowa, a nonprofit that seeks to advance farming that is profitable, ecologically sound and that enhances the community.
One of the organization’s priorities is promoting use of cover crops. Rye, wheat and oats grown between crops of corn and soybeans have been shown to reduce fertilizer runoff, shore up soil and sequester carbon dioxide.
Still, only a sliver of farmers — 4.2 percent of Iowa farm acres in 2019 — plant cover crops.
But Heckman is a believer. He and his family grow rye on all their acres because it increases organic matter in the soil over time. The rye grows over the winter and spring, before the Heckmans kill it off before planting corn and beans.
“It’s in the process of dying,” he said of the cover crop. “It will act as a mulch or cover for the (corn or bean) crop.”
The cost of a farmer’s raw materials — seed, fertilizer and equipment — have gone up this year. The price of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer alone tripled from January 2021 to March 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.
The Iowa Attorney General is working with economists to try to figure out why these prices have skyrocketed, especially when Iowa has several fertilizer plants. One of the factors is Russia, the world’s largest fertilizer producer, reducing exports because of international sanctions over the war in Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported.
But with corn prices over $8 a bushel — the highest price seen since August 2012 — farmers are poised to make good money in 2022.
“One of the bigger functions that agriculture has is we’ve got the ability to feed and fuel this country,” Heckman said.
He supports plans to build pipelines to sequester carbon dioxide from Iowa ethanol plants, although he knows many farmers oppose companies using seeking to use eminent domain to gain easements for the pipelines.
“For years we have taken crude out of the ground and 50 percent of what we’ve taken out of the ground is carbon,” he said. “These pipelines have the ability to very efficiently put twice as much carbon back into the ground.”
Heckman expects to finish planting by Friday.
“Everybody wants to hurry, hurry, hurry to get done,” he said. “But once you’re all done … then you’re like, ‘What more can we do?’”
Comments: (319) 339-3157; firstname.lastname@example.org