It’s been a wet and cool spring across much of the Midwest and that’s put a damper on planting. How much corn is likely to be late planted, and when should you start considering shorter maturity crops?
Wet Conditions Delay Planting
Jessie Higgins of UPI reports that due to the abnormally wet spring, much of the Midwest is still too wet for planting. This is a little behind schedule, but farmers don’t seem to be too worried. Planting usually begins in the middle of April.
Most experts agree that growers have from mid-April through early May to get their crops in the ground before there’s any impact on the harvest. Farmers have been watching the weather and waiting for drier days. Kent Thiesse, the senior agriculture loan officer at Minnstar Bank in Minnesota, and former University of Minnesota Extension educator, predicts that planting will probably pushed back into May.
Farmers need dry weather for several reasons. The fields have to be dry enough for tractors to drive in them without getting stuck. Corn and soybeans also need fairly dry soil in order to germinate.
At the time Higgins’ article was published on April 19, most Illinois corn had not yet been planted. That’s fairly unusual. Rod Weinzierl, the executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association had a little comforting news. There’s still time to get those crops in the ground.
“University data says that if you get it in the ground by about May 10, there won’t be an impact,” Weinzierl said. “Now, if we’re not planting in two weeks, that’s when we’ll start to get more stirred up.”
We’re coming up on that now.
Parts of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota are still having flooding due to levee breaches that have yet to be repaired. Water levels are still high, making planting this season increasingly unlikely.
“The reality is that with open breeches and river levels where they are, water is still coming in,” Jeff Jorgenson, a corn and soy grower in western Iowa, said in a text message. “Until [the] breeches are plugged or [the] river goes down, we will have to wait.”
Expect More Late Corn Planting in 2019
Scott Irwin and Todd Hubbs of FarmDocDaily, a publication from the University of Illinois Ag Extension, wrote an article last week about the likelihood of timely corn planting for 2019. The possibility of planting corn this spring in a timely manner is dependent on several factors.
- Percentage of the crop already planted
- Beginning date for a significant late planting penalty for corn yields
- Number of days suitable for fieldwork needed to plant the corn crop
- Total number of days suitable for planting expected before the beginning date of a significant late planting yield penalty
Percentage Already Planted
Almost all of the corn belt has had cold and wet conditions throughout the month of April, and that has slowed planting. USDA crop progress reports from April 21 indicated that only 6% of corn acreage in 18 of the major producing states was already planted. The five-year average is 12%. Five of those 18 states had zero planting to report.
Late Planting Penalty
Irwin and Hubbs say there’s not complete agreement about the optimum planting window to maximize corn yields, but for analysis purposes they chose the date of May 20 and applied it to the entire Corn Belt. They found that yield penalties grow if the planting date is pushed back after the middle of May. Planting on or after May 20 resulted in a yield loss of 8.1%.
Days Needed to Plant
Another factor that determines whether or not corn will be planted in a timely manner is minimum number of days needed to get the corn in the ground. Producers in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa needed a minimum of 14 suitable field days. That’s the absolute minimum, and assumes peak rate planting could be done for all 14 days.
Days Planting is Possible
How many days are actually suitable for planting before the May 20 cutoff date? If you start counting on April 25, that leaves 25 days until the cutoff. If we look at the historical distribution of suitable field days between 1980-2018, most farmers in the Corn Belt are able to plant about half the days in that window of time.
Putting it All Together
Irwin and Hubbs put all the factors together to make a prediction of 2019:
There is still sufficient time remaining to plant the 2019 U.S. corn crop in a timely manner. However, the computations are based on the historic distribution of suitable days for field work, which represents a wide range of conditions. In particular, soils are saturated throughout a considerable part of the Corn Belt due to heavy rains in recent weeks and months and this may impact the probability of obtaining the needed number of field days to plant the corn crop in a timely manner.
The bottom-line is that the current wet topsoil conditions in the Corn Belt do not bode well for planting the entire U.S. corn crop in a timely manner. A reasonable estimate is that late corn planting in 2019 will be at least 5 to 10 percent above average.
Shorter Maturity Crops
Sonja Begemann of Farm Journal says that many farmers are now looking into shorter maturity crops. Her article, published April 29, reports that rain is in the forecast for the next 10 days across much of the Midwest. That’s expected to put spring planting even farther behind. USDA’s Crop Progress report from last week are pretty grim for the Midwest and Mid-South.
“The numbers tell the story… and it’s not pretty,” Planalytics explained in a recent news release. Corn and soybeans are lagging behind but they’re not the only ones. Cotton, rice, spring wheat, sorghum and barley are also falling behind their 5-year averages.
Farmers will need to make the most of any dry weather coming up, but that could prove challenging.
“The next two weeks are expected to bring continued storms for the Plains and Corn Belt states, with several inches of rain likely on top of already saturated ground,” according to Planalytics.
Jim Schwartz, Beck’s Hybrids director of Practical Farm Research and agronomy recommends that farmers continue to stick with their original plan to plant later maturity hybrids. There’s still a little time left.
“You will give up some yield potential [if you switch to a shorter season hybrid] as later maturity hybrids will almost always have more yield potential than earlier maturity hybrids.”
Schwartz says that if you’re not getting your crops in until after June 1, then you might want to consider another hybrid. Drying costs may be more than the yield benefit, and at that point earlier maturing seed would be a better alternative. Schwartz says there are a few things you should expect with late planted corn:
Hybrids planted after May 1 require 6.8 GDUs fewer per day to reach black layer
This is the equivalent of switching from a 105-day relative maturity to a 91-day relative maturity hybrid.
Late-planted hybrids shorten vegetative growth stages but reproductive stages are largely unchanged.