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Early corn planting poses risks

John Walter Updated: 03/15/2012 @ 3:20pm

As is said about politics, all planting season conditions are local. But, 2012 is already shaping up as having its own national slant -- the prospect of a lot of farmers planting early -- maybe too early.

The generally warm weather has been highly abnormal for large parts of the country.

“Unseasonably warm temperatures this month have brought on an early start to the 2012 growing season much farther north than would be expected by mid-March,” Freese-Notis Weather reported on Agriculture.com this week.

“Since March 1 temperatures for the month so far have averaged from four to ten degrees above normal for a large part of the U.S. from the Plains eastward to the East Coast, with some locations averaging more than ten degrees above normal,” the weather service said.

And the forecast calls for more of the same.

“Corn planting is accelerating well ahead of normal across the Delta and Southeast," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather. "No immediate end is in sight for these unusually warm conditions, as readings should remain well above normal through at least the end of this month."

Farmers are being tempted by Mother Nature to take to the fields early, observers say. Corn planters have been spotted farther north than is normal for this time of year.

David Rahe, an Illinois crop consultant snapped photos of farmers working in the fields in Sangamon and Macoupin Counties in the central part of the state. One of his customers has planted corn already.

The Illinois Farm Bureau tweeted about corn planting being underway in Green County, which is about midway between St. Louis and Springfield.

“Some farmers are jumping the gun on planting,” Rahe says. “The soil is warm enough, but the calender says too soon.  Average last frost is April 24.”

Rahe wrote on his blog today, “I think if you are planting ...you need to understand the risks and know your risk management strategy. You are outside the point of crop insurance being a useful part of that strategy."

Mother Nature appears to be jumping the gun, too. Missouri horticulturalists reported this week that peach trees at the University of Missouri research farm near New Franklin are flowering three weeks early.  The site is located about mid-point between Kansas City and St. Louis.

“There’s a problem with that beautiful scene,” says Michele Warmund, University of Missouri horticulturist. “Killing freezes can occur from now until the ‘last-freeze date’ well into April.

“Based on records, severe winter storms can occur in mid-Missouri until at least the second week of April, says Pat Guinan of MU Extension. Frosts could occur later.

“Many agriculture specialists recall the Easter freeze of 2007. Millions of dollars in crop loss hit orchards, hay fields and newly sprouted corn,” the Missouri Extension report said.

In Iowa, while a warm mid-March is not unusual, only the spring of 1946 escaped a hard freeze after March 15, Iowa State University climatologist Elwynn Taylor said this week.

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