The Boys of Spring: A Series about the Process and History of Farming in Franklin and Southampton

By E.B. |
Posted on April 29, 2015
| Posted in History & Heritage

In Southampton County and Franklin, VA, the “boys of spring” don’t wear pinstripes and cleats, but rather John Deere hats and work boots. If you compare local agriculture to a baseball game, the National Anthem on opening day is playing as you read this. There has been some corn planted in the area but as a percentage to the crop, as a whole, we will compare that to preseason scrimmages.

I had a chance to tour some back roads around the county this weekend and the landscape has changed drastically. Most fields that only a couple weeks ago, were blanketed in lush green cover crop have been burned down with glyphosate and pre-emergent herbicides. Peanut land has been tilled, bedded and treated with herbicide. Widely adopted by local produces, conservation tillage and no-till practices have been wonderful in protecting against topsoil erosion. However, there are few aromas more pleasant than freshly worked ground prepared for traditional, peanut production.

Farm task in the last few weeks have been numerous and appear to have been completed in record time. Around the first of April, sprayers began buzzing the roads from field to field applying layers of herbicide to protect against traditional and glyphosate-resistant weeds. It is much easier and cheaper to control weed and grass problems, pre-plant rather than in crop. Even small weeds growing along side juvenile crops can rob yield.

Wheat management has been on the front burner for the last few weeks as well. Final doses of nitrogen have been made recently along with fungicide and insecticide treatment going on now or within a few days. Wheat crops are at flag leaf stage with a few showing emerging grain heads. In just a couple more days of higher heat and sunshine wheat heads will fully emerge, flower and dance in the breeze, as if, in a well choreographed, dance routine.

Corn planting was slow due to cold wet weather early in the month but should be completed by now. Most corn I have seen has three leaves now and is shining down the row, like small green snakes. Cold and damp weather along with recent lows in the 40s and high 30s have turned small corn plants a less than desirable shade of yellow. Though growth has slowed to a snails pace; only a few warm and sunny days will drastically improve the crops condition.

Cotton, peanuts and soybeans, the big three, when it comes to a farms acreage and income will be planted very soon. In the last month thousands of tons of fertilizer have been applied, in precise prescriptions, based on fall soil sample results. Most cotton and soybeans are planted no-till or with strip-till planter rigs. Strip-tillage for cotton was first adopted just northwest of our area in Dinwiddie County. It is a practice that farmers, here, have adopted with open arms. Though there are many different equipment configurations the practice remains similar. Cover crop or just natural winter cover is allowed to grow all winter and blanket the ground. The cover reduces erosion, shades topsoil from sunlight and prevents weed seed germination. This cover is killed off with herbicides and is ready for planting. Large horsepower, front wheel drive tractors fulfill the task of ripping and stripping fields. Most are stripping and planting eight rows at the time. Each planter unit tracks directly over a well-manicured seed bed only about 12” wide, leaving the row middles undisturbed. The seedbed is produced by a large ripper shank that penetrates the soil about 14”, ripping into the hard pan below the topsoil. This shank rips through the compaction zone, which is common, on coastal soils. This process allows crop roots, water, oxygen, and nutrients to move freely through the soil layers. This process probably accounts for 90% of our cotton acreage and seems to becoming more attractive to peanut and soybean producers.

Area producers have spent a lot of time and effort over the past months choosing the correct seed varieties for proper field and condition, placement. There are dozens of germplasms that fit a unique agronomic niche. Herbicide tolerance, drought stress, insect combative, and seed oil content are just a handful of the traits available to modern farmers. Placing the right seed in the correct piece of ground at the optimal time can mean the difference in hundreds of dollars of revenue per acre.

Cool nights and high probability of precipitation will keep most planters out of the field this coming week much like a rain delay to a baseball game. Farm shops will be filled with chatter, game plans, equipment checks, and maybe even a few superstitions. One particular superstition in agriculture is never to start planting, or any task on a Friday. So you might see itchy individuals plant a few rows on a Thursday afternoon, so not to tempt fate with bad “mojo”. The following week looks much more promising and farmers will quite literally sprint into the field.

Rural roads and even some city streets will soon be busy with heavy equipment. When you see four way flashers and orange triangles ahead, slow down and give them some room. Most equipment has out grown the roads of rural Virginia. Blind spots are enormous and thousands of pounds of steel and seed cannot stop on a dime. So remember when you’re rushing home from work that these guys are still on the job.

Just like every other spring in years past, hopes are high for a productive season. We are a long way off, from the playoffs, but you can bet local farmers are prepared for the challenge, both in offensive and in defense. We just hope that Mother Nature doesn’t step up to the mound and zing us a curveball, right out of the gate.

From My Field to Your Home,

E.B.