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Plains Wheat Pain Mounts as Southern Farmers Fight Delays

The winter wheat crop in parts of the Plains is falling in quality while farmers are seeing delays in the mid-South as corn-planting fights to move north into the Midwest, where another set of weather challenges and potential delays could keep progress at a snail's pace, according to Monday's USDA Crop Progress reports from around the nation's center.

The good news for farmers in the Plains is they've had a good week of largely uninterrupted fieldwork, but the bad news is that the dry weather there is starting to cause wheat conditions to erode as soils continue to dry out. Monday's report for Kansas, for example, shows 57% of the state's topsoil is rated either very short or short, while 64% of subsoil moisture is in those lower two quality categories, both conditions that don't bode well for much of that state's wheat crop that's just about on the average pace, development-wise.

"Temperatures averaged 4 to 8 degrees above normal, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Precipitation was reported in north and east with amounts up to 1 inch, while the southwest remained dry," according to Monday's report for Kansas. "Field activities included fertilizer and herbicide application and planting of spring crops. The lack of soil moisture continued to be a concern in a number of counties."

On a wider scale, the HRW wheat crop is actually in better shape than it was a year ago, with the nationwide assessment showing 44% of the crop is in good or excellent shape, and 16% is in very poor or poor condition. That latter number was at 29% a year ago.

While the moisture deficit remains the issue for farmers in the Plains, those in the mid-South and southern Corn Belt are still fighting lingering showers and rainfall that is starting to slow planting progress. Though farmers did make a lot of progress early in the last week, they're still well off the normal planting pace for corn in Arkansas as of Sunday; usually at this time, 43% of that crop is planted, though as of the start of this week, 27% of that state's corn is in the ground (that's a 25% increase over the previous week). Planting for soybeans, sorghum, and rice remain behind normal in Arkansas, as does the state's winter wheat development (2% headed vs. the previous average of 14% by this week).

“Warmer weather allowed some forage growth during the week. Rain has pretty much kept row crop farmers out of their fields. There were a few fields worked during the week, but they were far and few between," says Randolph County, Arkansas, University of Arkansas Extension specialist Mike Andrews, in an Arkansas NASS report on Monday. Adds University of Arkansas Extension crop specialist Shawn Payne: “Producers have been able to take advantage of some good, dry weather by cultivating and planting fields they were able to get into, but there are still fields that will need more time to dry out before being worked."

Moving into the Corn Belt, the report from USDA officials in Iowa shows almost 3/4 of the state's soils are ready for planting and farmers are starting to get some fieldwork done, but they'll likely be delayed by rains, albeit ones much of the state's farmers need. Fieldwork is underway, but no corn progress has been recorded there because USDA officials say 5% of a crop must be in the ground before quality or progress ratings are provided.

"Warm temperatures and mostly dry conditions over much of the state allowed farmers to continue anhydrous applications and tillage activities during the week ending April 5, 2015, according to the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service. However, reports of lingering frost in northern Iowa fields were received. Anhydrous supply issues were reported in areas of southwest Iowa. Statewide, there were 4.2 days suitable for fieldwork," according to the Iowa NASS report released Monday. "East-central and southeastern Iowa were the only two districts in the state that averaged over five days suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture levels rated 3% very short, 25% short, 70% adequate, and 2% surplus. Subsoil moisture levels rated 3% very short, 24% short, 71% adequate, and 2% surplus, significantly higher than 2014 percentage when two-thirds of Iowa reported short to very short subsoil moisture."

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