The calendar may say spring, but Old Man Winter has yet to receive the memo, with areas of the Upper Midwest getting socked with 10 inches or more of wet, heavy snow this week or deluged by rains.
While the additional moisture is welcome on some areas, stormy and cool conditions have pushed back planting in most states, especially in relation to last year’s progress at this same time. Flooding, cool temperatures and saturated soils have kept field work from hitting high gear, in soaring contrast to much of Texas, which withers under drought conditions.
According to this week’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Crop Progress report, only 9 percent of the Illinois corn crop was in the ground. At this same time last year, farmers in the state had planted 29 percent of their corn. A similar scenario is playing out in Iowa, where 2 percent of corn has been planted, compared to 16 percent in 2010.
Meanwhile, planters remain parked in many of the top corn-producing states as farmers wait for conditions to improve. And while it is early in the growing season, nearly every state lags behind its five-year average, with the exception of Kansas and Missouri. But even farmers in these states have less corn acres planted this year than at the same time last year.
The weather uncertainty means market uncertainty. Grain prices were once again led mostly higher earlier this week by the wheat market as weather concerns dominate the headlines, says Dave Kurzawski, market analysis for FCStone.
“Cold and rain is what we’ve got in the Upper Midwest, and forecasts are for that to continue for the next two weeks, which would push us into May with likely minimal planting progress,” he says. “That fear of a late spring is putting a lot of question into the markets mind about the potential to realize not only the expected sharply expanded acreage, but also increase the chance of an under-yielding crop.”
However, it’s a little too soon to hit the panic button. "The main two words for this spring are 'Be patient,'" says Tony Vyn, Purdue University extension agronomy specialist.
Farmers who till and plant their fields only when soil conditions are optimal stand a better chance of being rewarded at harvest with higher yields, Vyn says. At a time when commodity prices are so high, he says that some farmers might be too anxious to start planting their potentially highest gross-income corn crop ever.
"Although it is understandable that corn farmers want to plant the bulk of their intended acreage in a timely manner, minimizing their risk of yield-limiting planting delays should not be their top concern in April," he says.
Vyn adds that farmers should not determine their need for planting progress by what they achieved last year, when planting and harvest were unusually early; an early start does not necessarily result in a bigger crop. Last year, 71 percent of the corn crop was planted by the first week of May, with farmers ultimately harvesting an average of 157 bushels per acre in Indiana, for example. At the same point in 2009, however, farmers had planted only 5 percent of corn, but yields averaged a record 171 bushels per acre in the state.
"Just because you're delayed somewhat compared with 2010 or more normal years such as 2005 to 2008 doesn't automatically mean you're limiting yield potential," he says.
Corn yields depend more on weather conditions during flowering and early grain fill.
Vyn adds that he would not be too concerned with planting progress until the first week of May, when half of the corn crop typically is planted. He is even less concerned about soybeans at this time because planting for that crop usually lags two weeks behind corn.