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Despite Late Start, Iowa Farmers Cruise Through Corn Planting

On April 22, Charlie Scott started planting corn on his farm in Marengo, Iowa. That was his latest start date for planting in more than 15 years. Despite that delay, he’s already done with corn planting and hopes to finish up beans tomorrow.

The story is similar when you look at Iowa as a whole – a delayed start with impressive progress to date.

Over the last 20 years, there have only been three times when Iowa reported no corn planting progress on the USDA Crop Progress Report that came out near April 22: this year, 2013, and 2008.

Unlike this year, corn planting had a harder time catching up in those years. At this time in 2008, just 46% of corn planting was done, behind the 82% five-year average at that time. In 2013, only 15% of corn was in the ground, falling dramatically behind the 79% average.

As of this week’s USDA report (with data up to May 13), 65% of Iowa’s corn is planted, just slightly behind the 70% five-year average. When you look at the jumps each week since April 22, that number becomes more impressive:

  • April 22: 0% planted
  • April 29: 17% with 2.3 million acres of corn planted
  • May 6: 40% with 5.3 million acres of corn planted
  • May 13: 65% with 8.6 million acres of corn planted

Emergence has also caught up, jumping from 3% last week to 26% this week – right on pace with the average for this time of year.

While the overall picture looks much improved from mid-April, there are areas that have been too wet to make much progress. North-central Iowa only has 26% of corn planted, the northwest is slightly better at 43%, and the northeast comes in at 51%.


Soybean planting progress has moved ahead of the 28% five-year average with 33% complete as of May 13. That’s up from 12% last week. 

Once again, the numbers show a divergence among regions. Farmers in the southeast are driving the average higher with 65% of their soybeans in the ground. Other areas are falling behind, including the north-central with 3% complete and the northwest with only 9% done.

Soybeans have just started to emerge with 5% above ground, slightly ahead of the 2% five-year average.

Moisture levels

Overall, conditions look good for the start of the growing season. Over 90% of topsoil moisture is rated as adequate to surplus. Subsoil moisture levels are similar with 86% adequate to surplus.

Southern portions of the state show greater deficiencies. In south-central Iowa, 50% of ground has topsoil moisture that is rated as short to very short with 74% of subsoil moisture receiving the same rating.

Weather forecast

Unfortunately for the portion of Iowa that is already lacking moisture, the summer forecast for Iowa doesn’t look promising.

For the next two weeks, rainfall in Iowa is close to normal. But after that, it drops to below normal moving into June with slightly above-normal temperatures forecast for the summer, according to Dale Mohler, senior Accuweather agricultural meteorologist.

How detrimental that will be to crops depends on when the hot, dry weather hits. “If it’s 2°F. above average the entire summer, that’s not a problem. It will just be consistently warm,” says Mohler. “But if the majority of the summer has average temperatures and there are two to three weeks that are really hot and this hits during pollination, that can cause bigger problems.”

Editor's note: Charlie Scott is the father of Jessie Scott, author of this article.

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