Leif Knecht knows that pressure comes with the territory when you are in the horticulture industry in Minnesota.
But the owner of Knecht’s Nurseries & Landscaping says this season so far has been ridiculous.
With numerous storms dropping more than a foot of snow on the area in March and April, it looks more like winter than spring here. That doesn’t bode well for farmers and those folks like Knecht who grow things for a living.
“I’ve never seen a spring like this. It’s by far the worst I’ve experienced,” said Knecht, who started growing trees in 1988, moved to the current location on Hwy. 19 in 1990 and started the retail part of his business in 1998. “Anybody in the horticulture industry is suffering right now. It will be tough for us and the farmers. We won’t be able to plant probably until the first part of May, and that’s if all goes well.”
Knecht says that it’s a triple whammy for nurseries because they have to plant in the spring, harvest in the spring and set up a retail business, all in what now looks to be a short season. He says his business — along with other area nursery and landscaping businesses — is already suffering, and that’s not even taking into account the late planting season.
“We’re not only late planting, we’re late on our selling season,” said Knecht, who has much of his inventory still inside greenhouses where he can control the temperatures. “Every single business that is weather dependent will have to scurry. The season just got a month shorter.”
Looking back at 2012, Knecht and area farmers in southern and central Minnesota were already planting at this time, thanks to a mild, dry winter and record warmth in March that saw the thermometer here reach 80 degrees.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, full-scale fieldwork began on April 12, which was a full week ahead of the average. At this time last year, average statewide temperatures were 10 degrees above normal.
“You can just throw out last year’s season,” said Northfield farmer Mike Ludwig. “We’ll never see that again. Every year is unusual. As a farmer, we’re ready for anything. We’ll be ready to go when the weather breaks here soon.”
Northfield farmer Ray Larson, who has been farming for about 50 years, agrees with Ludwig, saying there is plenty of time to get the crop in and have a good yield. In fact, he sees some benefits of the late-season deluge of snow and moisture.
“I’m just thankful for the sub-soil moisture,” said Larson, who works 450 acres. “I think the big guys keep looking at the calendar and are getting a little antsy. But the smaller guys know they still have time to get it all done. If it isn’t sooner, it will be later. Not much we can do about it.”
While the 2012 growing season started with a bang, rains two weeks in slowed planting and presented different problems for farmers. After waiting out a couple weeks of downpours, they were back in their fields.
“Last year, we had all of the corn planted by May 15 and the yield was the best we’ve seen in Northfield in a long time,” Ludwig said. “The late corn was our best corn.”
That jibes with a recent report from the University of Minnesota Extension that says anticipated corn planting dates are still in range for high yield expectations.
It says that while weather conditions are delaying the onset of corn planting, wide fluctuations in the corn planting process are not uncommon in Minnesota. According to the report, by the end of April, about 50 percent or more of the state’s corn acres were planted in 2009, 2010 and 2012, compared to less than 5 percent in 2008 and 2011.
In the latter two years, when it was mid-May before half of Minnesota’s corn acres were planted, state-average yields ranked third and fifth among Corn Belt states.
“From my experience, if we get in the fields the first week of May, we’ll be fine,” Ludwig said. “We’re ready to go. We’ll have our corn planted so fast when it’s time, this weather will be an after-thought.”
That might be the case for area farmers, but for Knecht and others in the horticulture industry, time is of the essence. He says the materials are there and his guys are ready to get things rolling.
“We watch the weather multiple times a day,” Knecht said. “We’re in a good position to weather a ripple brought on by Mother Nature, but right now, it feels like a tidal wave. That means that when the warmer temperatures come, it will be truly insane around here.”
Reach Managing Editor Jerry Smith at 645-1136, or follow him on Twitter.com @NewsNorthfield