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Planting screeches to a halt

If you're itching to get back into the field to get your 2011 crop planted, one look at the weather for the next couple weeks indicates you might not want to hold your breath. It may be a little while before you can get back into the field.

"When it comes to the weather for the second half of April, what we have in store this year for the nation's midsection is about as bad as one could imagine for fieldwork," Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., meteorologist Craig Solberg said Monday morning. "Extended periods of dry weather during that time frame are completely out of the question, and even stringing together as little as two straight days of completely dry weather is going to be a real chore."

The moisture won't be excessive to the extreme; Solberg says much of the Midwest will likely see around 2 inches of rain over the next 2 weeks, but the real threat will be cold temperatures, with many 10 to 15 degrees below normal.

"If this isn't bad enough, cold temperatures are going to be a big factor over the next week with especially Iowa and points west and north seeing temperatures in that period averaging ten or more degrees below normal," he says. "We are not done with snow yet either, with Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas and northern Iowa likely to see accumulating snow over the next 48 hours."

That means planting progress, of which we'll get an update Monday afternoon with USDA's weekly Crop Progress report, will likely be well behind the normal pace.

"I would look for the national corn planting progress figure to be 6% for this afternoon's report, which would compare to the 5-year average of 8% and a 17% completion pace of a year ago," Solberg said. "We may be 10% or less done with corn planting for next week's report, which would compare with over 40% a year ago and over 20% for the five-year average. We may not be 20% done with corn planting by May 1, and last year on that same date the planting pace was record-fast at around two-thirds done."

'Caution flag'

Even if it is dry enough for your planter to roll through the field, the current temperature outlook for the remainder of April doesn't bide well for early seed corn growth in the field. If your corn sits in cool, damp soils like many out there right now, you could be facing uneven stands and ultimately, trimmed yields, says Iowa State University Extension agronomist Roger Elmore.

"Research shows that a swing of soil temperatures of 27 F (soil high temperature-soil low temperature) will affect mesocotyl growth. It is possible that corn planted this week will experience this range of temperatures. Seed placed into the ground, yet not emerged, can be injured from a cold period," Elmore says. "The drop in soil temperature can cause erratic and uneven stands as it did across the state in 2006, resulting in crop development that varied up to two developmental stages between plants in the same row. Seedlings can also have stunted and distorted leaves or may not emerge from the soil.

"Given the current conditions and the forecast for cool-wet weather, the best place for seed this week is probably in the bag," Elmore adds.

In the meantime

That doesn't mean your only option is to sit on your hands and wait for warmer weather, says Purdue University Extension agronomist Tony Vyn. Even though it may be easy to think that the longer you go without being able to plant, the more you're limiting yield potential, there are still better uses for your time at this point, he says.

"Just because you're delayed somewhat compared with 2010 or more normal years such as 2005 to 2008 doesn't automatically mean you're limiting yield potential. Corn yields depend more on weather conditions during flowering and early grain fill," he says. "While farmers are waiting for their soils to dry before planting, they should double-check whether they have planned for sufficient nitrogen fertilizer. In many farms, pre-plant nitrogen has already been applied, but more will soon be applied on other farms that apply pre-emerge or side-dress nitrogen.

"Do not rush soil preparation and planting where rooting ability will be impaired," Vyn adds. "Be kind to your soil this year. It is your livelihood."


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