Tracy Mabry planted soybeans on the last day of February and first day of March in 2006. Those soybeans yielded more than 65 bushels per acre, on very average soils. So far he hasn't planted a soybean seed this year, nor a grain of anything for that matter. Yet the calendar flips past the mid-point of April today.
To make the case that it's late already for planting would be ludicrous. But to note that there likely won't be many fields planted in early or even mid-April in most of the Corn Belt would be a true statement. Iowa State ag economists note that much of the state's corn crop was planted by mid-April in 2006. There was a snowstorm in parts of Iowa just last week this year.
What the lack of a very early planting window will mean to overall U.S. crop production will hinge on a number of factors. The result could be little or no impact, or it could be all the way to placing a lid on total production.
One 'unintended consequence' could be a switch of some would-be corn acres, picked up in the heavy corn acreage report issues by USDA earlier this spring, to soybean acres. There has already been talk amongst farmers in Hoosierland that if the delay extends into May, they could switch some fields back to soybeans that they intended to plant to corn. Some nitrogen has been pre-applied, but many farmers haven't been able to apply much N yet either. So they have more flexibility to switch if weather drives them into a later-planting situation than they prefer for corn.
At least one major Indiana seed company is quite aware that farmers could yet switch some seed corn for soybean seed. Apparently, it's keeping them guessing on how many soybeans to keep in storage, and how many to prepare for planting.
Another reason making it difficult to judge what impact much further delay in planting might have is that acreage per farm continues to grow. While equipment is large, there are physical limits as to how many acres can be covered per day.
Most agronomists still talk about corn yields beginning to decrease, on average, for crops planted after May 10. Yield decrease intensifies as the calendar flips deeper into May, especially into the last week of May and on into June.
Long-term studies by Beck's hybrids, Atlanta, Ind. Indicate that soybean yields very little if any, on average, for planting dates from early April to mid-to-late May. Of course, there can be dramatic differences in individual seasons.
So not planting soybeans in mid-April may not steal away any yield per acre, per se. The question mark, of course, is whether there will be ample time for large operators to get soybeans planted once conditions do fair up, given the number of acres they have to cover. One point almost all agronomists agree upon is that, on average, soybeans yields tend to decrease for crops planted even in very late May. That decrease can be more severe in some years than others, and more severe in certain parts of the state than others.
Stay tuned for planting reports as weather fairs up.