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Corn Belt Planting Window Closing for 10 More Days -- Forecasters

If farmers in the Corn Belt can get through the next 10 days or so, it should be time to plant corn like crazy.

That's if the latest forecast for the region holds: It shows lingering moisture that will keep a lot of fieldwork and planting activity sidelined through the next week or so.

Spring fieldwork is already pretty far behind normal in the Delta, mid-South, and southern Corn Belt as planters march northward; farmers in states like Louisiana and Georgia are almost at half the point they normally are with corn planting progress, and as the normal planting dates start to blow by in parts of the South, some are already switching to soybeans in an effort to take better advantage of the normal planting window for that crop vs. its usual rotational partner.

"I think that many farmers in the Delta and Southeastern U.S. will switch from corn to soybeans if they can not get the corn planted by the end of next week," says Kluis Commodities market analyst and grain broker Al Kluis. Data from MDA Weather Services and USDA show farmers in Louisiana have planted just 67% of that state's corn compared to the average pace of 93% planted by this week. In Mississippi, just over one third of the crop is planted vs. the normal pace of 57% by this time.

"Corn planting remains well behind schedule across most of the U.S., thanks to saturated soils across the Delta and southern Midwest. In most cases, corn planting is also behind last year’s pace, especially across the southern Delta and Southeast," says MDA senior ag meteorologist Kyle Tapley. "Wet weather this week across most of the Midwest and the Delta will prevent significant planting progress, especially in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Only the south-central Plains will see favorable conditions for corn planting over the next several days."

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As far north as Kansas City, at least a trace of rain has fallen in eight of the last 10 days, a time frame that's seen more than 3.5 inches fall in Memphis, Tennessee. The activity forecast in that region makes the delays spurred along by rainfall amounts like these something of a certainty, Tapley says. (image at right courtesy MDA Weather Services)

"Corn planting is already behind the five-year average in most areas, and the wet forecast for the next 10 days will certainly maintain delays. For many areas in the Midwest and northern Delta, where corn planting should be ramping up significantly, rainfall is expected for eight of the next 10 days," he says. "Of the next 10 days, the only day with widespread dry weather across the Corn Belt is expected to be this coming Saturday."

The silver lining to the clouds building in the Midwest and mid-South regions is that temperatures won't slide much, and the gradual warmup should help keep soils warming until the planting window does eventually open. Longer term, the concern becomes whether that warmup will get a little too warm further along into summer after the spring rains subside.

"Overall, the forecast looks generally favorable for corn and soybean development, but not as ideal as last year given the potential for dryness across the northwestern portions of the Corn Belt. The biggest risk to the forecast is the potential for drier-than-forecast conditions across the western Corn Belt, especially given the current soil moisture deficits found across those areas," Tapley adds. "These drier risks would be accompanied by hotter risks across western portions of the Corn Belt, but widespread and persistent heat and dryness would seem to be a rather low probability this summer, given the likelihood of a weak to moderate El Niño."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released data Tuesday that could pour salt on the wound of those field conditions that heat and dryness could create. Officials with the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division of the Corps released a report Tuesday showing the runoff feeding the massive Missouri River system -- a watershed encompassing a huge portion of the Plains and western Corn Belt -- is sitting at about 80% of normal, with just over 20 million acre-feet (MAF) flowing through the system after lower-than-normal snow in the Rocky Mountains and lighter winter snowfall totals in the Plains.

Though it's not as severe as the lack of snowpack and subsequent moisture flowing to California, a midsummer assessment will confirm just how much (or how little) the massive watershed is short on moisture. As of right now, officials say the downturn shouldn't affect early-summer navigation on the Missouri River.

"While below-normal runoff is expected, the reservoirs are well positioned to meet all of the authorized purposes this year. The Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System is designed and operated to provide the Corps with the necessary flexibility to adjust for varying conditions," says Jody Farhat, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, in a Corps report. "Flow support for the first half of the navigation season will be full service."

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