For agronomist Joey Hanson, Elk Point, S.D., spring 2020 is business as usual — so far. Hanson, owner of Diversified Agronomy, a crop consulting and custom strip-till business, has been assisting his 30-plus customers in South Dakota and Nebraska get ready for planting season.
That means loading planting and variable-rate seeding and nitrogen application prescriptions, grid, zone and precision soil sampling.
“Nobody is changing their plans — they’re still going to plant the crop,” says Hanson. “Most growers are having very limited contact and are in the shop, getting planters ready.
Personal interactions are relatively limited this time of year, until customers start planting. In 7-10 days, when growers could start rolling, there will be more face-to-face interaction.”
Farmers’ level of concern about COVID-19 varies as much as the farmers themselves, according to Hanson. “Some of my customers are very concerned, especially if they’re in the older generation or have some health issues,” he says. “Some aren’t concerned at all. This week, I installed a monitor in a grower’s tractor with his prescriptions, and we sat within a foot of each other for over an hour. He did say he hoped he didn’t catch the virus from anyone.”
Hanson says the vast majority of his clients do not have a contingency plan for planting season or their farm if they or one of their employees were to become ill.
“I’m not really getting much exposure right now, but if my wife and four young sons are going to get it, it’s most likely going to come home from me,” Hanson says. In the past week, South Dakota has seen a rapid rise in cases of COVID-19, with national hot spot Sioux Falls located only an hour north of Hanson.
“Everyone is more cognizant of their surroundings,” Hanson adds. “With technology, we don’t have to have one-on-one time like we used to. We can diagnose and troubleshoot with other digital tools, so we can adjust — if a farmer wants to.”
Hanson says that a lot of the growers he talks to are extremely concerned about the volatility in commodity markets right now, since many of them still have not recovered from the disastrous circumstances brought by the 2019 growing season.
“Our part of the country was heavily affected by prevented planting in 2019,” Hanson says. “Going into last fall, there was a lot of unsold grain sitting in bins, and growers still aren’t sure who the end user will be when the time comes to sell that grain.”
The heightened concern about market volatility has changed farmers’ thought process about their crops for the 2020 growing season, according to Hanson.
“In the last two weeks, I’ve had a lot of conversations with clients about the actual return on investment of crops,” he says. “We definitely talk about yields and profitability, but also speculation on who the end user will be, with ethanol plants scaling back and not having a direct livestock market to sell to.”
Some growers have already made adjustments to their crop rotations based on this necessary shift in the market, Hanson adds.
“They think that soybeans might pencil out more than corn,” he says. “When the numbers came out estimating how many acres of corn were going to be planted, that caused some fear, because we’re in a heavy corn and beans area, with just a little bit of wheat.”