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April 24, 2013

U.S. Planting Progress Slowed by Cold and Wet Conditions

Cold and wet weather last week kept planting progress to a minimum across nearly all the Corn Belt. As of Sunday, only 4% of the 2013 U.S. corn crop had been planted compared to 26% last year and a five-year average of 16%. Outside of the Deep South and the Atlantic Coast, the greatest planting progress was made in the mid-South region. Tennessee reported that 31% of the corn had been planted with 15% and 13% planted in Kentucky and Missouri respectively. The greatest planting progress this week will probably also be in the more southern locations as well.

The only major Midwestern states reporting corn planted were Illinois with 1% planted (56% last year and 24% average), Indiana with 1% (43% last year and 16% average), and Ohio with 1% (31% last year and 12% average).

Northwestern Corn Belt most at risk - The biggest concern for late planting continues to be the northwestern Corn Belt where heavy snow fell once again last week, through the weekend and into Monday. The residents of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota are in a no-win situation. If the temperatures warm up too quickly, then the flooding along the Red River will be more severe. If the temperatures warm up slowly, then the flooding may not be as severe, but it would be more prolonged.

The anticipated flooding along the Red River is going to be much later this year than in past springs. If there is flooding along the river, it usually occurs in late March or early April, but this year, the flooding may not occur until late April or early May. For farmers in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota, the timing of the floods could be of utmost importance.

The planting window for corn in the northwestern Corn Belt is normally quite narrow and it is going to be even more compressed this year once the temperatures start to warm up. After the flood waters recede, it usually takes two to three weeks before farmers are able to plant their crops. Therefore, if the floods occur in early May, it could be late May before planting could start. Planting corn in North Dakota in late May is a risky proposition. To receive full insurance for corn planting, the crop must be planted by May 25th in some parts of the state and May 31st in other areas of the state.

If planting is delayed past those dates, farmers may consider other options including: planting earlier maturing corn hybrids, switching to soybeans, or collecting insurance payments. In their weekly report, North Dakota officials estimate that the average date for the start of fieldwork in the state will be May 5th, but I think that is quite optimistic. In the Prospective Planting Report, the USDA estimated that North Dakota would plant 4.1 million acres of corn.

Central Corn Belt still has time to plant - Even with the recent heavy rains, there is still time to plant the corn in the central Corn Belt without potential yield losses if the weather starts to cooperate. By cooperative weather I mean no additional deluges of heavy rainfall through the month of May and temperatures at least back to normal levels.

I traveled through northern Illinois on Sunday to check the status of the fields. The area is saturated and there is standing water in some of the low spots, but there was less standing water than I had anticipated given the heavy amounts of rain that fell across the state last week. You could see from the debris pattern that the ponds of water had been about twice as big right after the rains and that a significant portion had already soaked into the soil. The subsoil moisture is still allowing for additional infiltration, which I think is significant because it indicates that some additional rainfall could also soak in as well.

I did not see any field work that had been done in northern Illinois and I don't expect any to be done this week as well, but if we could string together a period of warmer temperatures coupled with sunny and windy conditions, farmers could be in the fields within 7-10 days if there is no additional rainfall, especially in the better drained fields.

One to three million acres may not go to corn - With the northwestern Corn Belt still in the grip of cold and snowy conditions, it's uncertain as to when corn planting will start in the region and I continue to feel that it is the northwestern regions of the Corn Belt that are most at risk to delayed planting.

In the central Corn Belt, generally from Nebraska to Ohio, the problem is cold temperatures and saturated soils, but not the threat of flooding. Provided there isn't additional rainfall, with 7-10 days of improved weather, I think many farmers in the central Corn Belt will be able to start getting into their fields. If the weather during the month of May turns out to be beneficial, all the intended corn acres in the Central Corn Belt could still be planted. Some of the corn may be planted later than normal, but it would probably all still get planted.

Therefore, I still think that 1-3 million acres of intended corn production may not get planted to corn and the majority of that would be in the northwestern Corn Belt. At the present time, I would estimate that maybe two thirds of those acres would be switched to soybeans and one third might be prevent plant acres. The final acreage will depend on the weather during the month of May. If May turns out to be warmer and dryer than normal, then the planting concerns may be confined to the northwestern Corn Belt. If May would turn out to be colder and wetter than normal, then we will have significant planting delays.

The first of May is sort of an unofficial benchmark for corn planting progress in the U.S. and at the present time, I would estimate that 10% to 15% of the U.S. corn will be planted by that date and it might be closer to 10%.

Moisture slows planting, but helps relieve drought fears - The heavy precipitation last week, both rain and snow, frustrated farmer's efforts to start their spring planting, but they were certainly beneficial as far as the soil moisture is concerned. I think we can say with confidence that the drought has now ended for most areas east of the Missouri River. The subsoil moisture may not have been completely recharged as yet, but it has been recharged enough to allow for good corn yields if the weather cooperates this summer.

There are still concerns about the subsoil moisture in the far western areas of the Corn Belt especially the state of Nebraska. The subsoil in the state is still mostly short, but there is adequate topsoil moisture to get the spring crops planted and established. The dryer western areas will still need timely rains during the summer to insure adequate corn yields, but I don't think there are any significant areas where spring planting would be delayed due to dry surface conditions.