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Planting window finally flies open

Jeff Caldwell 05/13/2013 @ 8:03am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Spring's finally arrived, or so it seems, in a large part of the area of the nation's center where farmers still have a lot of corn and soybeans to plant. That effort is likely to get a boost in the next five to seven days, forecasters say.

"This could be the break that farmers have been waiting for," says Ken Scheeringa, associate Indiana state climatologist based at Purdue University, in a university report.

Soil moisture levels that have been kept afloat by this year's wet, cool spring are finally starting to abate. The pace of fieldwork is much quicker in the western Corn Belt, but the weather window opening in the next few days should allow farmers to get moving throughout corn and soybean country.

"Looking at topsoil moisture conditions this morning, we see that the topsoil moisture in % (of volume) are in the mid- to upper 20s across western Iowa, but increase to the mid-30s in central Iowa eastward into central Illinois," says Harvey Freese, senior ag meteorologist with Freese-Notis Weather, Inc. "The topsoils in the eastern half of Iowa and central Illinois are drying a little slower than those in western Iowa early this week, but I'm guessing that there is plenty of field activity going on anyway across the Corn Belt."

Temperatures actually went the wrong way in central and western parts of the Corn Belt over the weekend, but a sharp reversal of that trend is in store early this week, a change that will likely throw the planting window wide-open.

"Low temperatures on Sunday morning were very chilly, as nearly the entire state was below 40 degrees and some locations even well below freezing. High temperatures on Tuesday are expected to push 90 degrees for much of the state," according to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet on Monday morning. Such a dramatic temperature swing has happened between 1 and 28 times in Iowa, for example, since 1951, with higher numbers in western parts of the state where soils are generally sandier than elsewhere in the state, a variable that permits wider temperature swings.

That warming trend will ride a mostly dry air mass moving over most of the Midwest, making it possible for the majority of farmers in the region to get a lot done in the field over the next few days.

"The best chance for showers (.25 to 1”) ahead of the weekend will be on Wednesday/Thursday in the Ohio Valley and far northern Delta," according to Monday's Ag QUICKsheet from Commodity Weather Group (CWG). "This will likely allow at least two-thirds of the Midwest to avoid rains and see planting progress until a major system spreads across the belt this weekend and lingers into early next week."

In many areas where the planting pace is furthest behind the normal pace, like parts of Indiana where USDA-NASS data shows farmers are 26 days behind last year's pace and 20 days behind the average clip, this week's weather window is more than welcomed. It's essential.

"While this happens often in Indiana, this season seems particularly primed for that," says Indiana state climatologist Dev Niyogi, speaking of the increasingly common major swings in temperature and precipitation levels in that state. "So with these windows that are coming up, it can be a use-it-or-lose-it situation."

And, many say that window will let a lot of work get done starting today and beyond, especially with temperatures as high as the mid-90s expected in parts of the nation's center on Tuesday.

"I hope we can find a few drier fields to plant some corn in the next couple of days. If it turns out dry from here on it could be a huge mistake to push it, though," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk frequent contributor Mike central IA.

Adds Marketing Talk frequent contributor north ia farmer: "A lot of corn going in the ground here in northern Iowa. Also heard of a few soybeans being planted. We plan on being done by Wednesday and hope to get going on soybeans. Things have really shaped up in the last two days."

Monday afternoon, USDA-NASS will release its weekly Crop Progress report that some traders say could show a huge jump in planting progress over the last week. But some say patience and measured expectations are still necessary at this point.

"Last week, we were at 12% planted, and the trade said it didn't matter. 'It'll be 50% by today,' traders thought," says Jim Doolittle, agronomist and production specialist with Cooperative Plus, Inc., in Genoa City, Wisconsin. "Still predicting that? I'm thinking no. My guess is just under 30%."

Still, any progress at this point is a refreshing change for farmers frustrated with a cold, wet spring.

"Got a whopping 24 acres in the ground yesterday. Enough to get the cobwebs out of the planter. Still wet in spots here in Le Sueur County, Minnesota, especially along the road ditches," says Marketing Talk frequent contributor lsc76cat. "Have to be patient."

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