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Average by extremes: Weather snares early planting

Jeff Caldwell 04/09/2013 @ 11:16am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Last year at this time, corn planting was off and running, with farmers taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to get the crop in at one of the earliest junctures in years.

Mother Nature's not letting that happen again this year. Though soil temperatures are finally reaching just beyond that critical 50-degree mark to get the crop in the ground, rainfall and now, the threat of a cooldown in much of corn country looks to get this spring planting season off to an essentially polar opposite start from 2012.

The last week's seen temperatures average 3 degrees below normal in Illinois (average statewide temperature was 44.4 degrees last week, according to USDA-NASS), and though parts of Iowa saw temperatures in excess of 75 degrees on Monday, the mercury's going to dip far enough to bring likely snowfall to the western and northern parts of the region later this week, forecasters say. And, that's likely to keep fieldwork stalled.

"Cool, wet weather is not likely to end until the end of the week across the northern Corn Belt," says Harvey Freese, senior ag meteorologist with Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., in Des Moines, Iowa.

The snow's already falling in parts of South Dakota, where a warm front's already departed. The movement of that front through the Midwest will keep the moisture -- and temperatures -- falling. And, that may be just the beginning, according to Tuesday's Ag QUICKsheet from Commodity Weather Group (CWG) in Chicago.

"The current storm will continue to spread across all but a few southern sections of the Midwest during the next 3 days and will also exit the eastern Plains today before heading across the Delta and Southeast by Friday. The 6- to 10-day is wetter by the middle of next week for the corn belt, and another system sits early in the 11- to 15-day. This will shorten the window for seeding in the southern 1/3 of the Corn Belt to Friday to Tuesday," according to CWG. "Temperatures are warmer in the Ohio Valley in the 6- to 10-day but cooler across the corn belt in the 11- to 15-day, keeping seeding activities limited further north."

It all adds up to an spring planting trend of "average by extremes" for farmers who a year ago were already rolling hard but now find themselves awaiting a warmer, drier weather trend, ironically on the heels of one of the worst drought years in the last half-century. Results of an Agriculture.com poll reveal 62% of farmers expect things to get going later than normal this spring.

"We were planting corn last year on April 12. It's going to be 3 weeks before we even think about it this year," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk contributor WCWISC. "There's 1 to 3 feet of frost depending on the snow pack. Pretty muddy with the top few inches thawed out during the day. I love spring, but the mud leaves a little to be desired.

"Last year was extremely early, this year could be extremely late. You know what they say...average by extremes."

   

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