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Markets eye corn planting

03/16/2012 @ 11:13am

If you grow corn, you may have heard about a general “rule” to complete planting each year by May 10. It may be a rule you try to follow. Maybe. Maybe not.

Or perhaps you’ve heard that it’s the market, not Mother Nature, that cares whether you are done planting by May 10. Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s easy to get them confused. One concerns your farm, the other covers all U.S. corn farms.

But there is one key difference: Your personal May 10 “rule” generally calls for you to be 100% done with your corn planting by then -- provided you live in the heart of the Midwest. In contrast, the market’s rule is that 50% of all U.S. corn should be planted by May 10.

“If half the acres are not planted by May 10, then historically it seems less likely that the crop will be able to make trendline yields,” says market adviser Sue Martin of Futures Cash Info in Webster City, Iowa. “It doesn’t mean the crop can’t make trendline, just that it becomes less likely if planting is delayed. The market tends to watch that indicator.”

For 2012, the historical trendline yield for the total U.S. corn crop is said to be near 160 bushels per acre, with some observers looking for the mid-160s. With still relatively strong corn prices amid tight supplies, corn users are eager to see a return to trendline after back-to-back short crops. In 2010, the average U.S. yield was 152.8 bushels, and in 2011 it dropped to 147.2 billion. (Those slumps came after a record 164.7 bushels in 2009).

While the market keeps an eye on USDA’s national May 10 planting progress, individual farmers have their own benchmarks.

“May 10 is a general rule of thumb, but it’s only based on the average of past years,” says northwest Illinois farmer Paul Taylor. “It doesn’t guide what we do in any given year. We plant when the ground is fit and the weather forecast is good.”

He’s got about 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans, and aims to start his corn each year around April 18-20, with a target completion date of about May 5.

For Mark Heckman in east-central Iowa, his goal is to be finished with corn by Mother’s Day. He says he starts planting during the last two weeks of April.

His mantra for corn planting is “the earlier the better,” but he also watches to see that soil temperatures reach 50 degrees at the 4-inch depth.

While futures traders use a May 10 benchmark, Heckman says he remembers an old saying that says “if I could plant all my corn on just one day, I’d make it the 5th of May.”

This year, he’s planting about 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans in Muscatine County, with corn maturities ranging from 108 to 114 days.

In north-central Iowa, farmer Chris Edgington likes to start as soon as he can around mid-April, with an eye toward completion by May 5-10. But last year he didn’t get into the fields until May 3, finishing around May 18.

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