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Planters make bigger strides; farmers' nerves rattle

Jeff Caldwell 05/13/2013 @ 3:39pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

The last seven days have been by far the most productive week of the spring for U.S. corn farmers. States where hardly a wheel had turned prior to last week now have double-digit readings in the planting completion chart in Monday's USDA-NASS Crop Progress report.

As of Sunday, 28% of the nation's corn crop has been planted, still way off the normal pace of 65% complete and even further off last year's pace (85% complete by this week). But it's a major step in the right direction from the last few weeks, which added up to only 12% completion just a week ago. Farmers in major corn-growing states made quite a bit of progress yet still remain well off the normal pace. Farmers in Illinois, for example, have planted 17% of that state's crop, while on average, they've got 64% of the crop in the ground. That's a 10% jump in the last week. Iowa farmers went from 8% to 30% completion in the same time period.

Though some farmers say they are taking full advantage of the warmer, drier weather this week to get a jump on the acres they've yet to be able to plant, others see another wet weather system on its way to the region, something that could again halt all planting progress after a more seasonal few days.

"I would think that next Monday may be 'D-Day' if the rain does come through midweek. And they're calling for rain through next Monday," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk adviser ECIN. "I think the thing the trade is missing is that, just because they are calling for dry weather for a few days, the ground needs time to dry out."

In some areas, the ground that farmers need to make up in order to get anywhere near a more "normal" planting pace might be insurmountable if rainfall later this week and into the weekend is enough to delay planting for much more than a few days. That does not, however, justify "mudding it in," even as time begins to run short.

"Root growth will be restricted, and nutritional deficiencies and general unthriftiness will develop. Plant populations will be reduced and uneven. These guys are fools, because If they would wait, they would have a half decent crop," says Marketing Talk senior contributor farmerguy89. "Guys, you will have far more yield potential if you wait. You can't go to the poker table and start playing marginal hands hoping for good results; you need to wait for a playable hand, just as you need to wait for soil conditions to improve. You can't find any research to defend mudding it in. Don't even bother arguing with me that you're doing the right thing. You simply aren't. That's wrong 200% of the time."

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