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Corn planters start out slowly -- USDA

Jeff Caldwell 04/02/2012 @ 3:39pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Farmers in some Corn Belt states aren't waiting any longer before they start planting corn.

Monday afternoon saw the release of this year's first weekly USDA Crop Progress report, and it shows that, though progress is mostly fairly limited, more planters are rolling right now than a year ago at this time, reflecting the quick start to spring and optimal planting conditions in many areas.

As of Sunday, 5% of the Illinois corn crop was planted, according to Monday's report, while Indiana, Nebraska and Ohio all registered 1% progress and Missouri showed 7% planting completed. Farmers in southern and mid-south states are around their usual planting pace, and with states like Iowa still registering a zero on the progress chart, national planting stands around 3%, just 1% above this week last year.

Going into Monday's report, the trade anticipated between 5% and 6% planting completion, but with growing talk of temperatures cooling down later this month, traders see today's USDA numbers as a full sign that most farmers aren't gambling much on planting before they're eligible for crop insurance coverage to cover replanting costs.

"The trade is still looking at the possibility of colder temperatures ahead," says Don Roose, trader and analyst with U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa. "They probably looked and saw we only have 3% planted. It shows that farmers are being cautious."

The earliest date to plant corn in parts of central and southern Illinois, the state that showed the biggest jump in planting progress, is April 5. So, Roose says he expects farmers there -- barring any immediate frost danger -- to start planting full-bore in the next few days, a bump next week's Crop Progress report will likely show.

Still, some farmers say the early spring warmup has the wheels turning; they're taking advantage of the current weather window while they can.

"This year, lawns have been mowed, Treflan applied, corn on corn ground been knocked down, NH3 getting applied, you name it," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk veteran contributor Mike M2692830. "Other years, one would hope for a freeze to haul manure or scrape feeding floors. Who knows what this coming year will bring?"

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