Repeat Rains Dampen Pace of State's Corn Planting, Worry Farmers

Michigan corn growers are getting nervous as planting window shrinks.

Published on: May 21, 2009

They say rain makes grain but there won't be much grain to make unless the rain holds off. That's the scenario facing many Michigan corn growers as they nervously watch their optimal planting window tick by with every shower.

Continuing a pattern of frequent and heavy showers over the last month, as much as 3 inches of rain fell in some parts of the state Wednesday evening, and more precipitation is expected in coming days. The constant moisture is wreaking havoc for farmers who are anxious to plant corn but can't until their fields dry out. Historically, corn is the first field crop planted in Michigan in the spring.

"We're hearing about highly variable conditions across the state. In some areas it's more or less business as usual, but in other areas planting has been at a virtual stand-still. For those producers who have been delayed, the clock is ticking," says Bob Boehm, manager of the MFB Commodity and Marketing Department.

Time is of the essence because the sooner corn is in the ground the better chance it has to fully develop and mature over the growing season and produce high yields come fall.

On May 10, however, only 18% of Michigan's corn crop had been planted. At the same time last year, 66% of the crop was in the ground, surpassing the five-year average of 62%.

Michigan's not alone. Cool, wet, spring weather has delayed corn planting in surrounding Midwest states and much of the eastern Corn Belt. Nationally, corn planting was only 48% complete as of May 10, compared to the five-year average of 71%.

A wet fall followed by a cold, snowy winter has only exacerbated problems in Michigan, says Boehm. As of May 10, 43% of the state's topsoil and 36% of the subsoil had surplus soil moisture.

"What we really need is a string of warm and sunny days," says Boehm.

Until then, farmers plagued by showers are doing what they can as they wait things out. Some, for instance, are planting on the less soggy high ground in their fields even though it's more time-effective and cost-efficient to plant an entire field at once.

Despite the planting delays, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not adjusted its outlook for U.S. corn-planted acreage, which is estimated at 85 million acres. But some analysts predict U.S. corn-planted acreage may be reduced up to 1 million acres, says Terry Francl, an American Farm Bureau Federation economist.

"If the rain delays and cool weather continue for another week or two, acreage could drop by as much as 1.5 million to 2 million acres," says Francl.

Francl predicts most of those acres would shift to soybeans. The same would likely be the case in Michigan, Boehm adds.

"Ideally, you'd have all the corn in the ground by the end of May. If that doesn't look feasible a grower may opt to move on to the next field crop in Michigan's spring planting cycle which is soybeans," says Boehm.

With corn planting pushed back, soybean planting is also well behind schedule in Michigan. Only 5% of soybean planting was complete as of May 10, down dramatically from 29% last year and the five-year average of 28%.

In other Michigan crop progress reports as of May 10:

• At 91% complete, sugar beet planting closely followed last year's progress and the five-year average, both which were 98%.

• Potato planting, at 28% complete, was behind last year's progress of 45% and the five-year average of 44%.

• Barley planting was 54% finished, ahead of 30% last year but below the five-year average of 61%.

• At 77% complete, oats planting was down slightly from 81% last year and the five-year average of 87%.