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Iowa Corn Planting Is Slowest In 10 Years

Iowa Corn Planting Is Slowest In 10 Years

Only 3% of Iowa's 2011 corn crop has been planted as of April 24, due to the cold, wet spring. That's way behind the 28% normally planted by this date. This year's planting progress is the slowest in a decade.

Farmers in Iowa didn't plant corn last week because of the continued wet, chilly conditions. Only 3% of the state's 2011 corn acreage had been planted through Sunday April 24, according to USDA's weekly weather and crop report. Normally at this time of year, farmers have about 28% of Iowa's corn in the ground.

"This year's planting progress is the slowest in a decade," says Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. "Usually, we have around 28% of the corn planted as of April 24. That's the 5-year average. Last year at this time we were well ahead of the 5-year average. With warm and dry weather last spring, farmers had 61% of Iowa's corn crop planted at this time."

Iowa's wet, chilly weather is expected to continue through most of this week. Soil temperatures are still below 50-degrees F at planting depth. Soil temperatures need to be 50 degrees or warmer so corn seed can germinate. "What we need is sunlight," says Dale Roewe, who farms near Laurens in Pocahontas County in northwest Iowa. He doesn't expect to be back in his fields until this weekend.

Sunshine needed for fields to warm up and be ready to plant

"We are well behind normal with planting and even more behind where we were last year in late April," notes Northey. "Iowa farmers certainly can get caught up very quickly with planting. We can get a lot of crop in the ground if we get the opportunity, but we're looking at several days yet before we are able to get back into the fields. And it depends on dry weather that needs to come, as well as some warm weather to dry the soil, to get it back into shape."

Last week Iowa only had about half a day that was suitable on average across the state for any kind of activity in the fields and in most of the state very little fieldwork was done. "We went from 2% planted as of April 17 to 3% planted as of April 24," says Northey. "It's been a real challenge trying to get the crop in the ground this spring."

Nationally, only 9% of the 2011 corn crop has been planted

USDA says 9% of this year's corn crop has been planted nationally as of April 24, compared with 23% that is normally planted by this time. The sluggish pace of planting has caused corn prices to rally on the Chicago Board of Trade. Because of the tightest domestic supplies of corn since the mid-1990s, any weather problem is likely to make corn prices more volatile.

The May futures contract for corn shot up 25 cents on Monday April 25 to $7.62 per bushel. The December contract, which prices the crop now being planted, was up 16 cents to a record $6.81 per bushel.

Corn prices are getting support from traders because the widespread drought in the southwestern U.S. has put a big question mark on this year's winter wheat crop, driving the wheat price to $8.26 per bushel and removing wheat as an alternative to corn as a source for livestock feed. "High wheat prices make it difficult to use wheat as a livestock feed," points out Arlan Suderman, grain market analyst for Wallaces Farmer.

Can farmers catch up on planting pace if weather turns around?

With the GPS planting technology and larger, smarter planting equipment that many farmers have today, can farmers catch up on planting progress if the weather turns around? "Yes, we can plant quite a bit of the acreage very quickly if we get some dry weather," says Bill Northey. "As wide as the tracks are on a tractor and as great as the technology is with GPS, and with the nice planters we have today, you still need fields to be dry enough to plant, however."

Some fields will dry out quicker than others and some folks will be able to start planting 2 days or 3 days after the rain stops. He adds, "With rain continuing Monday and Tuesday of this week, it could be the end of the week before farmers can get in fields. Some fields won't be ready for several days after that, with maybe some rain coming in between. I'm not forecasting weather but I do recognize the challenge we have to get the crop planted this year."

Delayed planting recovered in wet springs of 2007 and 2008

The springs of 2007 and 2008 were wet, and planting was delayed. Farmers eventually got crops planted but the later than normal planting date makes the delayed pollination more vulnerable to summer heat in late July and in August and move vulnerable to early frosts in late September and early October.

While Iowa lags this spring, so does planting progress in the other main corn growing states. Corn was 9% planted nationwide as of April 24, 2011, compared to a normal of 23% based on the 5-year average. A year ago 46% of the U.S. corn crop was in the ground as of April 24.

With today's machinery and GPS technology, it is estimated that Iowa farmers can plant at least 30% of the state's corn acreage in a good week.

Looking elsewhere, problems are very serious in the Dakotas where fields in some areas are under water as flooding is widespread as a result of snowmelt and rain. It's already too late to plant many of those acres to corn. Bob Wisner, retired ISU Extension economist, says estimates are that as many as 2 million acres in the Dakotas and parts of northern and western Minnesota might end up being planted to something other than corn and soybeans.

Weekly USDA crop & weather report is available online

The weekly Iowa Weather & Crop Report is released late in the afternoon each Monday by the Iowa office of USDA's National Ag Statistics Service. The report is available on the Iowa Department of Agriculture site and on USDA's site at Here's what the latest report has to say, which was released April 25, 2011:

"Field work was virtually suspended through the past week due to wet, cold conditions. Farmers are anxious to begin planting in earnest, while a few farmers are concerned about having to re-plant fields if corn does not germinate and develop. Planters are ready to roll when it's dry enough."

"There were 0.5 days suitable for fieldwork during the past week in Iowa. Topsoil moisture levels currently rate zero percent very short, zero percent short, 62% adequate and 38% surplus. Subsoil moisture rates zero percent very short, 1% short, 71% adequate and 28% surplus."

Iowa's 2011 oat acreage is 72% planted as of April 24

Three percent of Iowa's corn acreage has now been planted compared with 61% at this time last year and the 5-year average of 28%. Oat acreage planted was 72% complete as of April 24, which is behind last year's 93% but slightly ahead of the average of 70%. Twenty-five percent of the oat acreage has emerged, equal to the 5-year average but trailing last year's 55%.

Pasture and range conditions statewide now rate 3% very poor, 11% poor, 39% fair, 42% good and 5% excellent. With the cool, wet conditions pastures have been slow to green up. Cold, damp weather has been unfavorable for calving.

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