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Corn planting getting going in southern U.S.

Agriculture.com Staff 03/06/2007 @ 12:39pm

With 65 degrees, a light breeze and dry soil conditions, corn planting in El Campo, Texas, about 70 miles southwest of Houston, is at a fever pitch.

Dan Bradshaw, a local crop consultant, says the producers are taking advantage of ideal planting conditions.

"We are looking for a good crop season with this good start. We were wet until about two weeks ago. But, when it started to get dry, the farmers got after it," Bradshaw says. "They are going pretty hard, and are well into the planting season. They are planting faster and planting more corn this year compared to last year."

Keeping growers from moving too quickly in the field is becoming a challenge elsewhere in the Southeast, says Mississippi State University crop production specialist Erick Larson. After rains in the last week, high soil moisture levels were keeping most would-be planters out of the field temporarily, an unsavory position for many who are pushing to get their part of what will likely be the largest Mississippi corn crop in four decades.

"Wet weather and high soil moistures are always concerns for us," Larson says. "But, trying to make the growers hold off until soil moistures are dry enough -- so they don't have that sidewalk compaction of the seed furrow that can cause root development problems -- is proving a challenge."

Even further east in Florida, some corn planting -- which is typically done during a wider calendar window from February to April -- has been underway, off and on, for around a month. But, the rush fueling growers in areas like El Campo, Texas, isn't present in the Sunshine State. Instead, many growers are hesitantly keeping a keen eye on the long-range weather forecast.

Whether the languishing El Niño weather pattern gives way to a dry La Niña pattern will be pivotal for the acres that have already been planted and even more so for those that will be planted later this spring, according to University of Florida Extension agronomist and cropping systems specialist David Wright.

"Now the climate forecasters are starting to talk about a neutral phase with El Niño, and if the ocean is cooling off so fast out there, they don't know when it's going to stop," Wright says. "If we go to La Niña, we will be dry in the spring, and that will be a serious problem for our dryland farmers. Normally, May and early June are our dry periods. If we do get into that phase, I would encourage growers to slow down planting and plant toward the middle of April because our rainy periods are late June, July and August.

Wright says early estimates indicate Florida farmers will plant around 120,000 acres of corn this year, up from 100,000 acres in 2006. The majority of those extra acres will come from peanuts and cotton, both more common crops there in recent years. In addition, the bullish market has Florida growers also displacing cotton and peanut acres with more soybeans this year.

With 65 degrees, a light breeze and dry soil conditions, corn planting in El Campo, Texas, about 70 miles southwest of Houston, is at a fever pitch.

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