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Moisture's the story as corn planting marches north

Agriculture.com Staff 02/10/2016 @ 6:25pm

In the new southern stretch of the U.S. Corn Belt, it's either too wet or too dry. For one of these reasons, the brakes are being applied -- or will be soon -- on spring corn planting from Mississippi to Missouri.

In Mississippi, where rain has been scarce throughout March, dry conditions that favored planting last week have turned into the spring fieldwork's foe this week. Extremely dry soil conditions have irrigation systems running on corn already planted -- some almost "knee-high," as some farmers wait on rain before they finish sowing this year's crop.

"March weather has been more like April, only drier. Due to dry soil conditions, most all planting activities have stopped," Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension agronomist in Leflore County, Jerry Singleton, said this week, according to a Mississippi Agricultural Statistics Service. "Some irrigation systems are running to help with corn emergence, activation of herbicides and moving nitrogen fertilizer into the soil profile."

A light band of scattered showers and thunderstorms did bring moisture -- though marginal -- to some parts of western and central Mississippi Tuesday, but not enough to dampen what's been one of the driest months of March in decades. While it's affected planting and early crop development thus far, the spring drought could harm the crop well into the growing season, according to Ernest Flint, MSU Extension agronomist in Attala County in central Mississippi, just east of Singleton's Leflore County.

"Soil moisture is very low for this time of year," Flint said in this week's Mississippi Ag Statistics Service crop weather report. "The [corn] crop is at a critical stage, and failure to receive rain for another week will lead to long term problems."

In the Bootheel of Missouri, north of Mississippi's extremely dry conditions but south of parts of Missouri where moisture is still keeping farmers out of the fields, corn planting is near completion and a rainy forecast is welcome, according to Kennett, Missouri-based certified crop adviser Phil Lee Gurley. In his Dunklin County, Gurley said Tuesday simply, "We need a good rain.”

"It rained on the 12th or 13th, just a little bit," he said. "But, they're enjoying getting planting done."

As of Sunday, March 25, the Missouri Ag Statistics Service indicated farmers in the Bootheel had 13% of the corn crop planted, while statewide progress was pegged at three percent.

One of the farmers trying to take advantage of overall adequate soil moistures to get the crop in was Mike Geske. He was running hard Tuesday to get planting progress made before a rainy forecast became reality on his farm just north of the Bootheel. The Matthews, Missouri, farmer said he'll be around 70% finished planting his 1,000 corn acres by the day's end in what, thus far, has been an "incredibly smooth" spring planting season.

"Yesterday, we had 88 degrees on the thermometer, 28 degrees above the typical high for this time of year," Geske, who began planting Thursday, March 22, said Tuesday. "We've had good soil temperature. We've got corn that's already sprouting and has a nice root on it."

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