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Corn planters roll at breakneck pace

Jeff Caldwell 04/17/2012 @ 3:34pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

It's not the 20% to 25% completion level that some in the trade were expecting, but corn planting is still moving at a record pace in the U.S., according to Tuesday's USDA-NASS Crop Progress report.

As of Sunday, 17% of the nation's corn crop is in the ground. That's up 10% from last week and 12% ahead of last year's planting pace. The pace is downright breakneck in Illinois, where farmers have 41% of the crop in the ground. Last year at this time, only 8% of that state's corn was planted.

"Our strip-till planted nice but any ground that was worked early was too dry. We are 80% done with corn and should finish up with 4 good days of planting," says Doug Martin of Martin Family Farms near Mt. Pulaski in central Illinois. "We did have some frost damage to some of our emerged corn, but it looks like it is starting to grow back pretty good."

The big story for most farmers, though, has come since USDA gathered its data for this week's Crop Progress report. Weekend rainfall -- which totaled more than 5 inches in some spots around the western and central Corn Belt -- was fairly widespread, boosting crop potential, especially in places like Martin's area of Illinois.

"We had about 1.5 inches on all of our farms over a three day period. We couldn't have ordered it any better," Martin says. "We needed it to because we had to quit like a lot of people because we were running out of moisture."

The focus on the weather -- for both farmers and traders -- will only sharpen now as a dry, warm outlook for the next week to 10 days will likely open the door for even further accelerated planting progress, according to Freese-Notis Weather senior meteorologist Craig Solberg.

"The warmth of the soil and forecast of moisture are factors that would encourage early growth of the corn crop," Solberg said Tuesday. "Combine that with the 6-10 day forecast of warmer than normal to normal temperatures across the Midwest and you have conditions that encourage early planting."

And, though the market's paying close attention to the progress of the corn crop early on in the game, Tuesday's numbers probably won't alone amount to much movement in the market Tuesday night into Wednesday, says Matt Connelly, independent floor trader at the CME Group in Chicago.

"Most farmers I speak to were a little worried about weather. Planting early and getting frost," Connelley said Tuesday. "Don't think it is a market mover." 

The breakneck speed of corn planting so far this spring could possibly have implications to the marketplace further down the road if conditions continue to support rapid progress in the field, says Brian Basting, commodity research analyst with Advanced Trading, Inc.

"The focus is probably switching back to weather now with rain later this week and it getting nice next week," Basting says. "By April 29, we could be looking at some exceptional corn planting numbers."

But, Basting is quick to point out that it's a long summer. And, there's a lot of room for error. "We have a long way between now and when the crop is in the bin," he says. "We saw fast planting in 2010, but the season didn't play out well when it got dry."

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