USDA Crop Report Shows Many Farmers Waiting Until Time Is Right

Do you know when a field is "mostly fit" for planting corn? ISU Extension agronomist says soil condition is key.

Published on: May 1, 2013

Planters were rolling across fields in some areas of Iowa on April 30. With afternoon temperatures in the 80-degree F range in central Iowa, soils were above the 50 degree threshold considered by agronomists as necessary for corn to germinate. Yet there were many farmers who were looking at the weather forecast for cold, wet weather rolling in on Wednesday or Thursday and staying for an extended period -- the next five days or so -- these farmers decided not to begin corn planting yet.

USDA's weekly crop report released earlier this week showed only 2% of Iowa's corn acreage was planted as of April 28. Illinois was 1%, Indiana was 1% and nationwide it was only around 4%. "While we haven't turned many wheels in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana yet, corn planting progress actually moved from 4% in the 18 major corn producing states the week before -- to 5% as of April 28," notes Steve Johnson, an Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist in central Iowa. "That 5% of corn planted compares to 31% on the five-year average. Yes, planting progress in 2013 has been moving pretty slow."

EASIER SAID THAN DONE:  Fields arent uniform and theres no set of rules to help you determine when is the right time to plant, notes ISU Extension corn agronomist Roger Elmore. If you plant when the ground isnt ready you can create a bunch of problems such as sidewall compaction, rootless corn, open furrows, uneven emergence, seedling disease problems, etc. Even though planting time is running late, sometimes it pays huge dividends to wait another day or so to let the majority of a field get more "fit for the planter." Of course, thats easier said than done when you are running out of time.
EASIER SAID THAN DONE: Fields aren't uniform and there's no set of rules to help you determine when is the right time to plant, notes ISU Extension corn agronomist Roger Elmore. If you plant when the ground isn't ready you can create a bunch of problems such as sidewall compaction, rootless corn, open furrows, uneven emergence, seedling disease problems, etc. Even though planting time is running late, sometimes it pays huge dividends to wait another day or so to let the majority of a field get more "fit for the planter." Of course, that's easier said than done when you are running out of time.

Progress now compared to end of April 2012 is "night and day" difference
A year ago at the end of April Iowa had 44% of its corn planted. Nationwide corn planting was 49% complete. So if you compare this year in Iowa to last year, it's a difference of night and day. Iowa is seeing some more planters in the field on April 30 but we're in for a cool-down as well, observes Johnson.

ISU Extension corn agronomist Roger Elmore was advising farmers on April 29 to leave the seed corn in the bag and wait to plant it after the cold, wet weather spell that's on its way has passed and the weather warms once again next week.

Every decision that you make influences the size and scope for corn yields. From the corn hybrid you select to the seeding rate and row width you choose. Download our FREE report over Maximizing Your Corn Yield.

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"I know farmers here in central Iowa who went ahead and planted on April 29 and 30 and now have one-third to once half of their corn planted," says Johnson. "The key is the soil condition. On some of this well-drained ground these guys are rolling and there will be even more corn going into the ground. But it's in certain locations in Iowa -- such as central and west central and parts of southwest Iowa -- where the planting is taking place the past couple of days. We're going to see a lot higher number next week in the USDA week crop report than the 2% planted that we saw last week. But when you move north, especially northeast in Iowa, there aren't many wheels turning yet."

Some farmers are going ahead and planting corn now to try to catch early September markets this fall
Soil temperatures were around 60-degrees pretty much all across Iowa on April 30. "Unless you pack the soil and have compaction or crusting problems, that corn is going to eventually come up," says Johnson. "A lot of the farmers who are going ahead and planting are larger acreage farmers. Also, the farmers who are going ahead and planting now are the ones who like to be able to harvest and hit that early September market for delivering corn -- that's why they are going ahead and planting now."

Every decision that you make influences the size and scope for corn yields. From the corn hybrid you select to the seeding rate and row width you choose. Download our FREE report over Maximizing Your Corn Yield.

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So there is probably an agronomic strategy as well as a marketing strategy that comes with early planting. Especially on well-drained soils, that's the key now. If you're going to take advantage of the September new crop month for selling corn, you are going to have to get your crop planted early. Of course, now that it's May 1, that's not going to happen this year.

Sometimes it pays huge dividends to wait another day or so before planting
One of the considerations about planting in soils that are too wet is the possibility of sidewall compaction and other problems developing, says ISU's Elmore. Roots from the plant never leave the channel or trench the corn seed was planted in. That can become a bigger problem when you start are using starter fertilizer and those roots can't branch out to actually take advantage of the fertilizer to get the crop off on the right foot.

It's going to be cool temperatures possible mixing with sleet and snow later this week in Iowa. What can happen to that seed already in the ground if it absorbs that cold moisture?

One of the things that happens is as soon as the seed is planted it starts absorbing water. So, if that water is cold it can start to damage the tissue of the seedling and it can cause what is called imbitional chilling. Some of the symptoms of that are that you get the seed starting to swell and it doesn't germinate or you can absent or fragile primary roots as well. It just doesn't allow the seed to start out the way it needs to.

Every decision that you make influences the size and scope for corn yields. From the corn hybrid you select to the seeding rate and row width you choose. Download our FREE report over Maximizing Your Corn Yield.