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March Mania

With planting 15 days behind, South Dakota cousins are eager to start custom-seeding

From left: Sisseton, S.D., farmer and cattleman Sam Hanson; his partner and cousin, Ben Hanson; and Ben’s son, Hunter John Hanson, listen to how they’ll fix a technical glitch as they prepare a newly-acquired seeder for action on some oats on May 5. The cousins hope to custom-seed 3,000 to 4,000 acres in a 25-mile radius as spring. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service1 / 2
Sam and Ben Hanson, cousins in their late 30s who grew up together near Sisseton, work on ensuring electronic signals between the tractor operator and a seeding system they bought from a neighbor this year to do custom-seeding. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service2 / 2

SISSETON, S.D. — Sam Hanson, 39, and his cousin, Ben Hanson, 38, are partners in a custom-seeding business in the most northeast county in South Dakota.

The Hansons this year bought a seeder that had been owned by Doug Martinson, who seeded for the Hansons.

Now, it’s theirs. “We’ve got about 3,000 acres to get seeding,” Sam said May 5. “The ground’s just too wet yet.” This is the third year running that spring fieldwork has been slow in the Upper Midwest.

Sam said he’d only heard of a couple of farmers getting in the field the first week of May: “Just scratching around, testing equipment.”

Trade uncertainties and price outlooks didn’t seem to be changing any planting intentions so far, Sam said.

“What’s changing most of their minds right now — what they’re going to put — is the timeline. Because we’re getting backed up so far,” he said. He said he thinks there will be a “lot less small grain,” in his area — wheat and barley — and more corn and beans.

Soil temperatures have been less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit much of the region — less than the mid-50s needed for good corn seed germination. Planting is about 15 days behind, with only a few fields touched in the Roberts County area, according to the Hansons.

April precipitation was about an inch higher than average, making it likelier that more planting will slip out of an optimal period before May 10, although ultimate yields are dependent on the rest of the growing season. Ideal soybean planting for optimal yield can run through May 25 or beyond.

The soggy tale

Sam and Ben were busy getting the machine adjusted, getting excited about getting into the field to get some work done. “We’re just excited to get in the field and help these guys out and get their stuff planted.”

They’ll do anything: cover crops, alfalfa, soybeans, oats, wheat — “whatever the guys are looking for.” The corn they plant is mostly for silage. Soil is good near Sisseton, but runs into some “‘gravely, sandy areas” and wet ground in “the hills.”

The Sisseton area picked up about 90 inches of snow this winter. The most impactful was the was 20 inches of wet snow. “Plenty of moisture, that’s for sure,” he says. The last rains have brought 3/16 of an inch.

Most of the custom-seed acres are within a 25-mile radius. They’re hoping to pick up another 1,000 acres, for a total of 4,000 acres.

They’ll also use it on about 600 acres they own. They were starting to plant some oats on Ben’s place, just to the northeast of Sisseton, to the east of Interstate 29.

On May 5, they were thinking about how to get the computer in the cab to link up with a new seeding system. “Once we get that, we’re going to stick it in the ground and take off,” Sam says. “If the rain will hold off, we’ll be able to get in the field.”