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Corn+Soybean Digest

Expect Western Corn Belt Planting Delays

A prolonged El Niño weather pattern likely means another cold, wet spring for much of the western Corn Belt, says Drew Lerner, meteorologist and owner, World Weather, Inc.

Lerner’s prediction comes in response to the National Weather Service’s March 4, 2010, El Niño Advisory, which forecasts El Niño-induced weather patterns lasting “at least through the northern hemisphere spring 2010.” With El Niño’s influence persisting into April and May, corn growers in the western Corn Belt will likely experience wetter-than-normal conditions that could prevent essential fieldwork prior to optimal planting dates, Lerner says.

“El Niño tends to produce above-average precipitation in the central and southern Great Plains during late winter and early spring, which could easily move into the western Corn Belt,” says Lerner. “So, from an El Niño perspective, not including current snowpack and soil moisture levels, I would expect a wetter-than-normal bias this spring from Texas to South Dakota for March and April. Then from April through May and possibly into early June, I would expect an above-average precipitation bias for Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.”

The abundant snowpack and saturated soils that currently exist in many top corn-growing states, combined with the outlook for more plentiful-than-normal spring rains, bodes poorly for farmers hoping to plant early or even on time in 2010, adds Lerner. “The northwestern Corn Belt will likely be late getting corn planted,” he says. “Especially in the Upper Midwest, there’s a deep level of concern over the current snowpack, and it may take until late March before we see a big meltdown occur and up until the second week of April before we’re finished with flooding.”

Still, this year’s spring weather is likely to differ in two important ways from last year’s spring weather, says Lerner. “No. 1, this spring probably won’t be as persistently cold,” he says. “No. 2, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky will have a drier-than-normal weather bias this spring that they didn’t have last spring.”

Temperature-wise, Lerner predicts cooler-than-normal conditions across the central and southern Plains, the lower Midwest and the Delta and southeastern states during March. In April, he forecasts cooler-than-normal weather in the central and southern Plains, but a warmer bias in southeastern states, the Delta and the Ohio River Valley.

“In the long-run, the 2009 corn crop did fine under similar wet and cold conditions last spring, but we also got lucky with good weather later in the year,” says Lerner. “This year, we might not be quite as lucky in the later half of the growing season.”

With wet soils likely for April and May, farmers need to realize that their days for fieldwork and planting will be compressed even tighter than normal, and plan ahead, says Roger Elmore, Iowa State Extension corn agronomist. “Be realistic about the days available to plant and have everything ready to go when the weather breaks,” he says. “In a typical year, conditions are suitable for planting only about half the days between mid-April and early May. So, you might expect to have a two-week window to plant during that time and only have four to six days when you can actually get into the field.”

As a result, farmers should start thinking now about ways to expedite planting, advises Elmore.
Possible solutions would be to rent or purchase a bigger planter or a more efficient planter. Another option would be to equip your operation with the tools needed to apply fertilizer after planting instead of before.

For tips on managing N fertilizer applications during a wet spring, visit the following University of Missouri Web link: For more information about weather and its impact on crop production, visit the World Weather, Inc., Web site at:

For more information on corn production issues, click here:

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