Craig Stehly is a no-tiller who farms 12,000 acres of corn, soybeans, winter wheat and a variety of cover crops around Mitchell, S.D., with his brother, Gene. I caught up with Craig the afternoon of Wednesday, April 8.
Stehly says that their crew of five is only going home, to the farm, and to pick up groceries, trying to limit their public interactions as much as possible. Only three cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed so far in Davison County, but Stehly comments that cases could always go up.
“People have been doing a pretty good job of social distancing,” he says. “We try to stay six feet apart as much as we can, but it’s kind of hard when we’re working on equipment. There’s not a lot of choice about it.”
The crew at Stehly farm so far is not overly worried about COVID-19 spreading amongst their group, so they’re not wearing masks or taken precautions to that level — yet, according to Stehly.
The group discussed a plan for how work would continue, should any of them have to go into quarantine during planting season. The rest of the group would have to pick up the work for the one who has to stay in quarantine. Stehly says planting season might be easier done under quarantine, since each crew member has their own tractor and they don’t see each other as often during planting.
Picking up parts at their local dealership, C&B Equipment in Mitchell, S.D., is now simplified to picking up the parts outside the door. “They’re still working, since they’re essential,” Stehly adds.
To prepare for possible supply chain disruptions in the coming months, Stehly has been ordering supplies and getting fertilizer delivered earlier than usual.
“It looks like the peak of COVID-19 cases in our area will be right in the middle of planting, which could bring some unforeseen difficulties,” he says. “If someone has to be quarantined for two weeks right in the middle of planting, that would be a serious disruption.”
So far, Stehly says all of their equipment is ready to go for planting season, with just some final prep work still to be done on drills and tractors. The fields are still too wet to actually get out there.
“Since it’s still so wet, I can’t terminate most of my cereal rye and wheat early, so I might have to plant soybeans green right into the cover crops,” Stehly says. “We’ve still got a lot of water sitting on fields, which was going to be a challenge, even before the virus.”
Stehly notes that COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into all of the commodity markets.
“Ethanol plants aren’t taking corn, so that makes it tougher if we’re trying to move some corn,” he says. “The main thing is to keep everybody safe, but we’re in a situation where we still have to plant the crop, but just stay as safe as we can.”