Thoughts About Early Planting

If you've already planted corn you likely had your reasons.

Published on: Mar 27, 2012

Reports of a serious amount of corn planted in central and southern Illinois, and at least a sprinkling of acres planted in Indiana before the first official day of Spring has some people scratching their heads. Try to explain that to your grandfather or great-grandfather!

Emerson Nafziger at the University of Illinois says it may mean this is an educational season because he can't remember this much corn planted so early. He also says that in all test results he can find, corn planted the last week of April typically slightly out yields corn planted in late March of early April.

Other universities have shown similar data. However, Nafziger acknowledges it depends upon the weather conditions that come after planting and the year itself.

Thoughts About Early Planting
Thoughts About Early Planting

Here's what we think is often left out of the equation, especially for farmers with large acreages to plant. While the data is what it is for late-April being an ideal planting time in the central Midwest, few people add this caveat. What if soil conditions are right now, and temperatures are right now, but it's too wet or too cool to plant the last week of April? What if the last week of April becomes the first week of May? During the past two seasons in much of Indiana, for example, the last week of April became the last week of May or the first two weeks of June.

One could argue that the proper comparison ought to be not the first of April planting vs. the last of April, but the first of April planting vs. planting the last week of May? Which corn is likely to yield more? Most university data and data form several seed companies, including Beck's Hybrids through their Practical Farm Research Demonstration plots, would say that anything planted in April has a higher percentage of yielding more than corn planted the last week of May.

Given that logic, who can blame someone who has watched their planter sit for four weeks straight in May for the past two years if they want to get some crop in the ground now? Of course if fair weather continues or if the last week of April is ideal, and you could guarantee that, it would make a difference. Farming doesn't come with guarantees.

Ken Scheeringa, an assistant climatologist at Purdue University, says warmer than normal weather is likely through April, although it may not be as extreme on the warm side as in March, as compared to normal. Rainfall is more of a fuzzy call. The real issue is that May and June aren't on the radar screen yet. Some who have ventured out into May still call for a cool, wet spring.

So is it wise or foolish to have corn planted now? It's your decision, and your money. For our money, it's a gamble either way. Perhaps experts should talk in terms of calculated risks and explain what-if scenarios when they lay out planting date options.