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Freezing temps roll into Corn Belt

Jeff Caldwell 04/10/2012 @ 11:03am Agricultural content creator and marketer.

Blame a major mass of Canadian air for the sub-freezing temperatures that hit part of the Corn Belt overnight and is expected to sink temps as low as the 20s again Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, forecasters say.

The "large area of cool Canadian air," fueled by a high pressure system that's keeping skies clear, humidities low and winds blustery, sent temperatures to or below the freezing mark from Nebraska to Ohio and as far south as Oklahoma and Texas and will likely create similar conditions again Tuesday night, according to Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., ag meteorologist Craig Solberg.

"This morning, temperatures dipped to the 20s and 30s across the western Corn Belt and mostly 30s and 40s across the eastern Corn Belt states," Solberg said Tuesday morning. "In some low lying areas the temperature may have even dipped to the teens in northwest Iowa and northern Nebraska. A combination of low clouds and a little wind may have kept temperatures a few degrees warmer over Minnesota and Wisconsin."

The freeze reached as far south as central Iowa in the Corn Belt, and it could take temps as low as the 20s down into Illinois where farmers like Doug Martin near Mount Pulaski, Illinois, have a fair amount of their crop already sown. The Commodity Weather Group's commentary for Tuesday shows farmers in the southern half of Illinois have made "good advances" in planting and Martin's no exception.

"We're over half done with corn and getting really dry," Martin said Tuesday. "Supposed to get cold tonight. Our biggest corn is 2-leaf, so we should be okay."

Other farmers said in Agriculture.com Marketing Talk Tuesday morning that they saw clear evidence of a hard freeze on their farms, but that may not deter all from starting to plant.

"Twenty-six degrees when I got up this morning, with a very 'crisp' feeling to the air," said Marketing Talk advisor Nebrfarmr, who farms in central Nebraska. "A few guys were talking about starting today, but that was last week when it was 45 degrees for the low and 70 for the high. Still, I think a few will start just to say they did."

Adds Marketing Talk senior contributor highyields: "I was going to get out and plant corn today, but it's hard to get excited about that when you have to scrape the windshield!"

The good news is, despite the freezing temps now, conditions in March got things headed in the right direction. So, if your crop doesn't get nipped by frost or freeze now, you are likely still in good shape, temperature-wise, says Climate Corporation director of agronomic research Jeff Hamlin. March saw major growing degree day (GDD) accumulations.

"More than 98% of the weather stations across 12 key Midwestern corn states reported record GDD accumulations from March 1 to March 27," Hamlin says. "More than 93% of weather monitoring locations across 12 Midwestern corn states reported sufficient GDDs to get corn through to emergence by March 27."

So, if your corn's already in the ground, but not too far along, a freeze this week may not do too much damage. But, keep your eye on the median freeze date for your area for temperature direction moving forward.

"Growers should consider the median last freeze date: planting before this date means that, based on historical data, the grower faces a 50% likelihood of a subsequent freeze that could kill the crop and lead to a replant situation," Hamlin says. "While the blooms on the trees may suggest otherwise, the analyses referenced here suggest growers need to keep an eye on the data before deciding to plant early."

But, what if you have corn that's a little further along? Damage may not be evident immediately after a freeze hits. But, just give it a few days, says certified crop adviser Dave Rahe with Soil-Right Consulting Services, Inc., in Hillsboro, Illinois.

"Everyone knows that at 3-leaf stage or younger the growing point is below ground, so some black leaves are not really a problem," he says. "If [corn in the 5- and 6-leaf stage] froze, I say if the stems are still okay, wait a few days. The growing point even above ground is somewhat insulated."

But, if after those few days pass and it becomes clear that you will have to replant, make sure you take care of the earlier-planted corn before you go in with another round of seed.

"If it is not coming out of it in 3 or 4 days, then destroy it completely before replanting," Rahe says. "You don't want those stray larger stalks messing things up."


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