Wet weather and colder than normal soil conditions last week continued to make it difficult for farmers in Iowa to get into the field and plant. However, progress is being made in some areas of the state where it hasn't been quite as wet. The weekly survey by Iowa Ag Statistics Service, released May 12, shows that 46% of Iowa's intended corn acres for 2008 were planted as of May 11.That compares to 70% at this time a year ago. The average for the past 5 years is 87%.
The weekly government survey shows that more than 25% of Iowa's corn was planted this past week. Only a few soybean fields were planted. The statewide estimate is that 4% of Iowa's 2008 soy acres were planted as of May 11.
"Fields in most of Iowa remained wet, with scattered showers and cool temperatures this past week," says Harry Hillaker, state climatologist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture. "Some areas of the state received frost. Cool and wet soils slowed the emergence of the corn that has already been planted. Many fields were planted in less than ideal conditions."
Late April, early May weren't good for planting
"It's been a frustrating spring, with cold, wet soils and delayed planting," says Jim Fawcett, Iowa State University Extension field agronomist in the Cedar Rapids area in eastern Iowa. "But late April wasn't the best time to get corn planted this year anyway. As cool as it's been in April and early May this year, it might turn out to be that mid-May and late-May will be the best planting dates for 2008. With that in mind, I don't think we want to look at the calendar and get too concerned that we still have corn to plant as of May 12."
Eastern Iowa and especially northeast Iowa have been delayed more than other parts of the state this spring. "Here in east central Iowa, as of May 12, we probably have 50% of the corn planted," says Fawcett. "But it varies a lot from place to place. There is more corn planted to the south than in the northern part of my Extension area. It depends on where the rain fell. In the past week all of my area had over 2 inches of rain and some of this area had over 4 inches."
Alfalfa winterkill worse than expected
When planting is delayed into the latter part of May, corn and soybean yields can suffer. For food and for fuel, there's a big demand to produce corn and soybeans this year. Soaring demand for corn and soybeans has pushed up market prices. There's a lot of pressure to produce a big crop of alfalfa this year too. Hay prices have skyrocketed this past winter.
Alfalfa stands got hit hard with winterkill in eastern Iowa, especially northeast Iowa, says Fawcett. "We had a massive winterkill of alfalfa fields in some areas this year. Ice sheeting caused the damage. It's worst in northeast Iowa. North of highway 30, as you get farther north there are areas where 75% to 80% of the alfalfa fields aren't worth keeping."
Of course, there has been a real problem in getting new fields of alfalfa seeded this spring. We are already starting to see the hay market respond with some real high prices. Wisconsin got hit hard too, and northwest Iowa had some alfalfa winterkill damage, although to a lesser degree.
"You don't have to get very far south as you drive south from northeast Iowa and you don't see a problem with winterkilled alfalfa," says Fawcett. "It has to do with the ice that formed on alfalfa fields in northeast Iowa in early January. The ice sheeting caused big problems. However, once you get west and south of the northeast section of Iowa, the alfalfa fields look a lot better."