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Late Planting Nerves Flaring Up Around the Corn Belt

This weekend marks the unofficial start to summer. But, the way Mother Nature's acting, she's not quite ready for "swimsuit season."

Temperatures are expected to stay below normal and rainfall's likely to fall in amounts greater than normal in parts of the central U.S. where it's needed least in the coming days; in fact, the outlook has some farmers starting to think in terms of tardiness for a spring planting pace that was just a couple of weeks ago steaming along at a speedy pace.

"Based on the forecast, it will be June before we put a bean in the ground. Fair amount of corn locally that is yet to go in," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk advisor Mizzou_Tiger. "Talked to one guy today and sounds like prevent-plant will happen on some local acres that are wet pieces of ground. They planned on corn and have no desire to try beans given the economics. Have at least 3 fields that need to be ripped out and replanted but it will take 7 days of sun to get it fit enough to do that. These are not borderline stands. These are acres that have 50% or more gone (nothing) and the other 50% have reduced stands to levels that are unacceptable."

The weather window could be opening briefly between now and midway through the Memorial Day weekend, however; forecasters say the rain will pause until anywhere between Saturday and Sunday in western and southern portions of the Corn Belt -- the region where the rain's needed least -- resuming later in the weekend through that part of the region and beyond the early part of next week.

"Most areas will see plenty of fieldwork opportunities Thursday and Friday, with a rainier pattern the next few days. Highs will reach the upper 50s to low 70s Thursday and mainly in the 60s and 70s Friday to Monday, with some low 80s near the Ohio River Sunday and Monday," says Matthew Christy, Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., meteorologist. On the bright side, though, those warming temperatures likely signal the end of the cooldown that's made it difficult for planting to resume in areas where there's been a lot of moisture.

"I think the worst of the cold is over for the season. Quite cool here right now as well, but that will change in a big way next week, as highs will be in the 90s by Memorial day. The western and southern corn belt should see decent planting weather through Saturday, so I would suspect there will be some aggressive planting. Temperatures will be warming quite nicely into the low to mid 70s as well. Things go downhill after that, though, with rain expected by Sunday, and off-and-on showers much of next week as well. Temperatures should be seasonal in most of the western belt next week," says Don Keeney, senior ag meteorologist with MDA Weather Services based in Gaithersburg, Maryland. "After that, the storm track shifts to the north, with most of the rain focusing on the far northern Plains and far northern Midwest (Dakotas, MN, WI, northern MI) by the first of June."

The continued wet pattern for much of crop country -- including the Wheat Belt in the Plains, where continued rain in some areas has leaf and stripe rust and other diseases flaring up -- is cause for worry for farmers like Mizzou_Tiger who have corn and soybeans left to plant. "Might get the last 80 acres of corn in on Friday. Then, if the forecast is right, it will be Tuesday before it stops raining. All of our beans will be in June," adds Marketing Talk contributor westernia80.

Concerns like these may be premature in some cases, but in others, could justify a change in course at this point in the season. If you find yourself "seriously delayed," you may consider switching hybrids for any remaining corn acres, one agronomist advises. Though it's early to be thinking in these terms, eyeballing when the first killing freeze will roll around and how far along your corn will be when that happens should help clarify whether it's time to make a switch.

"Delayed planting seasons create a lot of frustrations for everyone involved with planting crops. One of the agronomic questions that comes up when planting is seriously delayed is whether farmers should consider switching from their normal full-season maturity hybrids to shorter-maturity hybrids. The question is based, of course, on the perceived risk of the crop not reaching physiological maturity before a killing fall freeze and the yield losses that could result," says Purdue University Extension agronomist and corn specialist Bob Nielsen. "A related, and economic, concern with delayed planting of normal full-maturity hybrids is the risk of high grain moisture contents at harvest and the resulting costs incurred by artificial drying of the grain or price discounts by buyers."

Beyond just planting outside of the normal optimal window for your area, planting a shorter-season hybrid at this point in the game may be in the cards if you're short on Growing Degree Days (GDDs). Though this measure of crop maturity potential shows GDDs are keeping up with the normal pace despite cooler, damper weather over much of the Plains and Midwest in the last couple of weeks, it's a worthwhile consideration when you're looking at going to the expense of and time to switch hybrids right now.

"The challenge in taking advantage of this relationship between hybrid GDD ratings and delayed planting lies with the estimation of available GDDs with delayed plantings for specific locations. Historical data for daily GDD accumulations exist for a limited number of weather reporting stations around the state, but accessing such data can be difficult," Nielsen says. "Recognize that actual GDDs deviate year to year from the historical 'norm' because of natural variability in growing season temperatures. Also recognize that hybrids undoubtedly vary in their GDD response to delayed planting. Also recognize that hybrid GDD response to delayed planting in other parts of the country may differ from what we have documented in the eastern Corn Belt."

Overall, look for GDD ratings in any hybrids you are considering selecting for later planting if that's your course of action moving forward, Nielsen adds. But, also watch the "EOS" date on those bags; the end-of-season date is just as critical as the GDD rating.

"The choice of a date to represent the "end of the season" (abbreviated EOS) can be straight-forward or one of those 'eyes of the beholder' decisions," he says. "Some growers may opt to select an "end of season" date earlier than the historical first fall freeze date to ensure that physiological maturity will occur earlier during a time period that may yet be conducive for grain drydown in the field and thus minimize their expenses of drying the grain artificially."

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