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April 16, 2014

Return of Cool Temperatures Slows U.S. Spring Planting Pace

After a few days of warm temperatures, a reinforcing surge of cold air into the central U.S. has convinced farmers to put their planters back into the shed, at least for the time being. As of this past weekend, 3% of the anticipated U.S. corn crop had been planted compared to 6% for the five-year average. The most advanced corn planting of course in in the southern states such as Louisiana (94% planted), Georgia (76% planted), Texas (57% planted), and Mississippi (56% planted). Of the major corn producing states, only Illinois reported 1% planted while the remaining states were less than 1% planted.

The soil temperatures in many locations are still too cool for adequate corn germination. Corn seed generally require a soil temperature of about 56 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of 3-4 inches to insure germination. When soil temperatures are cooler than that, farmers hesitate to plant their expensive corn because the longer the seed remains in the ground without germinating, the greater the risk of insect and/or disease damage.

Under ideal conditions (warm and moist), the corn seed can emerge in 5-7 days. In the worst case scenario (cold and wet), the corn seed may not germinate at all and simple rot in the ground which is what farmers want to avoid at all costs.

It is still too early to say with confidence that the 2014 corn crop will be planted later than normal. With ever larger planters, American farmers can put the corn crop in the ground at an astonishing pace. Forty to fifty percent of the U.S. corn crop can be planted in a seven day period if there are ideal planting conditions in the central Corn Belt.

To be considered an average planting; generally half of the corn needs to be planted by the end of about the first week of May. I would not consider the corn to be extra late unless the plating was delayed until past the middle of May.

In prior years, the conventional wisdom was that late planted corn would be lower yielding than early planted corn, but that assumption may not be as valid as it once was. The thinking was that later planted corn would be pollinating and filling grain during a time of the summer when the weather can be hotter and dryer, but improved corn genetics have overcome some of these concerns.

Modern corn hybrids are much better geared to withstand short periods of hot and dry weather than hybrids of even a few years ago. Therefore, under the right conditions, farmers can still expect good yields from late planted corn. Those conditions include: a lack of heat or moisture stress during pollination and early grain filling, warm and extended fall weather, and a late frost allowing the corn to reach maturity.