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About Corn Planting 'Go-time' for the Midwest

It's officially go-time -- or awfully close to it -- for planters in the Corn Belt. Farmers report getting the wheels turning throughout the region, and a warm, mostly dry weather forecast for much of the Midwest through the weekend makes solid corn-planting strides a likelihood...if that forecast holds out.

Farmers have been busy applying fertilizer around central Illinois, and that's got many ready to start planting in the next few days, says Dave Mowers, agronomist with Agricultural Information management in Toulon, Illinois. There has been some planting underway already in points south of him, but Mowers says the soils in his area are just now about ready for the planters to run, for a couple of reasons. First, moisture's still in slightly short supply, and the moisture that has fallen hasn't done all it needs to in order to get the soil primed and ready for the planter. Recent moisture's fallen as drizzle or extremely light rain, meaning it hasn't facilitated soil percolation that's necessary this time of year to avoid compaction from becoming an issue later on in the growing season.

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How are your spring Fertilizer applications going?

Farmers report a lot of delays not just to spring planting, but also preperatory fieldwork, namely fertilizer applications. "If it stopped raining now, it would take at least a week just to get started on the dry fertilizer and the limited tillage I do," one farmer says. What's your situation?

"We did not have a good rain to get the water channels open so we'd get better drainage. The soil's just been like chewing gum. It's had to dry from the top down, and that's a slow process, especially after the winter we had. The surface is loosened up, but down below it's cold and clammy. Those are the worst kinds of soil conditions you're going to have when it comes to sidewall compaction," Mowers says. "We actually still need a good half inch to inch of rain to settle the ground. It's got to be an active rain, not a mist hanging in the air. Once it does that, the ground will warm up and it'll drain better. Those percolation channels have not been opened in a lot of areas."

The soil's for the most part still in that "almost ready" stage in northern Iowa, too. Chris Weydert farms near Bode, Iowa, and says though he's eager to get into the field, he's still holding out for things to warm up and dry out.

"We are ready, but the fields are not. A couple of the regulars are hitting it on the sandy ground," he says. "The forecast is not looking too conducive to productivity."

The optimal planting window for corn is just starting to open, according to recent reports, and though some farmers are not worrying about that window just yet, there's reason to believe it could be a stretch for farmers at least in a large swatch of the Corn Belt to hit that window just right, Mowers says.

"Last weekend, I was in Omaha, and I drove across Iowa on Saturday and Sunday, and in 550 miles of total driving, I saw 4 planters the whole time," he says. "What I'm hearing is it is slower start than I expected."

Though progress has been slow to this point, that doesn't mean it's going to remain that way; Kelley Kokemiller farms in Story County, Iowa, and he says since April 13, he's been running hard and "both field conditions and weather are excellent." With that being the case, corn planting could see a major advancement in next Monday's USDA Crop Progress report. But, considering the timing of next week's report and the relatively early stages of planting right now, it's far from time to change any acreage decisions yet, Mowers adds.

"We're hearing these little rumors that credit limits are being put on growers. That may cause some late shift-over (from corn to soybeans). I don't think it's going to be a real high number of acres. Will be more in the Delta if anywhere. I don't think there's going to be that kind of switch-over," he says. "We're talking credit limits where they won't have enough money for inputs for corn, and they'll switch to beans. Most of the growers from last fall had indicated just with some of the growth limitations they've got, almost anybody with heavy corn percentage-wise, almost unanimously are putting more beans in this year. But, I don't see a huge shift in acreage. Soil conditions are too good.

"They will lean toward corn because it's the revenue crop. Some people are looking at it on the cost of production," Mowers adds. "You cannot save yourself into prosperity."


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