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Wet March doesn't mean April planting delays, agronomists say

Agriculture.com Staff 03/27/2007 @ 2:05pm

As the month of April approaches, many fields in the eastern Corn Belt (ECB) are too wet for planting, but any delay would be only a guess at this point, agronomists said.

For corn, the drive to achieve maximum yield to take advantage of this year's higher prices is giving producers the itch to get the crop in the ground as early as possible, said Shawn Conley, Purdue University agronomist.

"In particular, those producers wanting to plant more corn this year are sitting there watching the weather. They are going to want to put that corn out in April," Conley said. "If we get a wet April, that could delay planting, forcing some of them to switch to soybeans."

Though the planting delay talk is making producers and market watchers nervous, agronomists say the wet conditions will keep producers from planting too early.

So, with five days left until April, the ECB wet weather forecast could keep producers out of the fields.

"It's good that it's wet, it's only March. Sometimes I think we need to be slowed down a bit," Conley said.

Because of a wet harvest season last fall, tillage was minimal. The current wet conditions could assist in minimizing wheel tracks, Conley said.

Realizing producers will plant as soon as the soils dry out, which could be as soon as five to six days, Conley urged producers to hold off with fieldwork until the second week of April.

"Our research shows increased yields come with earlier planting, but we don't encourage anyone to plant until mid-April," Conley said. "For soybeans, the crop insurance planting date isn't until April 21."

Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois agronomist, said it's wet in a lot of places. But, nobody is in a planting panic mode yet.

"We have a few large operators in Illinois that feel they have to start planting in March in order to finish on time," Nafziger said. "But, that is the exception not the rule. Most people with today's technology can finish planting in five to six days."

Nafziger said there are parts of Illinois that received between three and four inches of rain in the past week, causing ponding of water in some fields.

"I don't think it's ever good to have water standing in a field," Nafziger said. "But, a lot of people see this rain as replenishing the soil moisture. With normal warm weather, these fields should dry on time."

Nafziger said Illinois producers are not seeing much different conditions this year compared to previous years.

"We are not a lot wetter than average throughout the state," Nafziger said. "The correlation of March rains with the start of corn planting is not very good. We've had years with a few inches of rain in late March, and we still get in the field in mid-April."

"I don't think it does us much good to be guessing at this point how early we can get in the field to plant," he said.

"Because one of them say it almost every year, I get concerned when the weather forecasters say we will have a wet spring and dry summer," Nafziger said. "That's the worse case scenario. But it's that type of talk that moves up the panic date on planting for producers."

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