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Early-planted corn facing a tough go

If you planted corn way earlier than normal in hopes of getting an early start, Bob Nielsen has good news and bad news for you.

First, the good news is if you applied "a healthy rate" of starter fertilizer when you planted, your crop's still probably doing alright. And, though the weather's been less than ideal for early crop growth in a lot of spots in the Corn Belt in the last few weeks, some forecasters expect warmer weather to return as early as midway through this week, which should allow the crop to catch up on growing degree days (GDDs), which are in short supply in much of the region.

The bad news is that young early-planted corn in the field, at least in Indiana where Nielsen is an Extension corn specialist for Purdue University, has faced a barrage of tough conditions, from frost to "sand blasting." And, because of those cooler conditions in a lot of areas, crop development is inching along.

"Considering that typical soil temperature-based GDD accumulation per day in late March is nearly zero, the 2012 experience was very unusual," Nielsen says. "Temperatures cooled off in April to normal or even slightly below-normal and, thus, daily GDD accumulation has also been fairly normal for April...meaning not very many GDDs per day (less than 10)."

This slow development can have fairly long-lasting effects; if young corn plants take a longer-than-normal time to transition from relying on kernel reserves to nodal roots, Nielsen says, the more susceptible they are to falling victim to any of a number of stand-dampening factors.

"crop development in April is typically slow from a calendar perspective. The importance of this simple fact is that corn seedlings rely on kernel reserves to sustain their growth until the plants transition from dependence on kernel reserves to dependence on nodal roots. This transition period typically occurs around the V3 stage of leaf development," he says. "The longer it takes corn seedlings to reach and successfully transition to dependence on nodal roots, the greater the risk that stand establishment will not occur successfully in terms of achieving a uniformly healthy stand of corn by the time the crop is knee-high."

Such yield-robbers as soil-borne insects, like wireworms, and soil diseases can either stunt or kill young seedlings in these types of conditions, Nielsen adds.

So, have many farmers held up on planting until the weather improves? Based on Monday's USDA-NASS Crop Progress report, not many did. The report showed the corn crop's 53% planted, with farmers in key Corn Belt states having made mammoth progress over the last week.

But, other farmers say the early start to spring -- and resulting early planting progress -- has them putting planting on hold awaiting warmer conditions this month.

"I held up when the cold and wet was forecast last weekend. Time will tell if that was the right thing to do but experience of poor germination with similar conditions other years kept me from finishing up, plenty of time yet for timely planting and the hope for big yields," says Marketing Talk contributor farsider.

"Here, we are wet. Sounds like we get to look at mud all week. Then turn cold next week. Maybe the corn planted May 15 will still turn out the best," adds Marketing Talk senior contributor jec22.

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