Cold, wet weather delays planting even more

Another week of cold and wet weather further pushed back the starting dates for spring fieldwork, and it's shaping up to be the latest crop planting season in a decade in Minnesota and two decades or more in North Dakota.

Another week of cold and wet weather further pushed back the starting dates for spring fieldwork, and it's shaping up to be the latest crop planting season in a decade in Minnesota and two decades or more in North Dakota.

On Monday, the Minnesota office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service moved back the average starting date of fieldwork statewide to May 1, a full week later than NASS had forecast on April 18. If it bears out, that would be the third-latest start to fieldwork in Minnesota since 1995 and the latest since 2001, when it was May 4, said Dan Lofthus, deputy director of the state's NASS.

North Dakota's NASS office, meanwhile, pushed back its estimate of the start of fieldwork to May 6, a day later than it had estimated April 18 and 18 days later than last year.

It would be, in fact, the latest start to spring's work in at least 20 years in North Dakota, when the office began keeping the data, gathered every week by a survey, said Andy Jackson, ag statistician.

The average starting date for fieldwork in Minnesota is April 23. Last year, which turned out to be a record crop production year, fieldwork began April 13 in Minnesota. The latest spring so far since 1995 was 2001, when field work didn't begin, on average, until May 4, according to Lofthus. In 1996, it was May 2 before farmers got going in the field.


Last year, 22 percent of the spring wheat and 76 percent of the sugar beets in North Dakota was planted by April 24. This year its zip for any crop and weeks away for many farmers with water still standing inches- or feet-deep on fields.

In Minnesota a year ago, 56 percent of the corn was in the ground and 81 percent of the spring wheat was planted by now.

But this year, the statewide survey found the only things planted by Sunday were 4 percent of the oats and 1 percent of the barley.

However Monday, there were a few farmers out planting corn in southern Minnesota, near LeSeuer and New Ulm, said Tim Gerlach, executive director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

"I've gotten the sense that these old-timers don't panic and they are not panicked yet," Gerlach said. "But they are getting kind of antsy to get out there."

Historically high prices for corn since last summer have convinced farmers to plant 300,000 acres more this year in Minnesota, Gerlach said.

The prices, in fact, were pushed even higher Monday because of the news of delayed planting in several states, market analysts said.

The July futures contract for corn on the Chicago Board of Trade Monday was up 24 cents a bushel to $7.69. Meanwhile, soybean prices were pressured downward, ending up only six cents a bushel at $13.97 because speculators were betting that the late spring will mean more soybeans planted instead of corn, analysts said.


Wheat futures in Chicago were up 27 cents a bushel to settle at $8.61 in the July contract, not only because of the cold wet spring in the Upper Great Plains, but the drought conditions in Oklahoma and Texas hurting the winter wheat crop.

With corn prices nearly twice typical levels, the great profit potential does add to the frustration of farmers, who can only wait for floodwaters to recede and saturated soil to drain and dry, said Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association. The USDA planting intentions report a month ago indicated North Dakota farmers plan to put 2.5 million acres into corn, which would be near the record planted acreage of 2.56 million acres in 2007, Lilja said.

It's too early to assume those intentions must change, he said.

"Typically, planting corn after May 15, you do start to see some minor yield issues," Lilja said. "But the biggest yield losses come after planting corn after May 25."

Some corn growers already are considering planting an earlier maturing corn seed variety, Lilja said. Some varieties mature in as few as 75 days -- the days measured as a certain number of heat units, not necessarily as calendar days.

Which means a good growing season, with lots of sun and warmth, can make up for any harm from late planting, Lilja said.

"We ran into that in 2008, when we had a very cool summer and then had the warmest September on record, which helped even it out in the end," Lilja said Monday. "But we can't rely on that all the time."

A change in federal farm rules might limit options for some farmers this spring, Lilja said. The prevented planting program, which subsidizes farmers unable to get a crop planted because of bad weather, has been adjusted for this year. "They have put a new ruling in that that ground has to have been planted and harvested at least one out of the last three years," Lilja said. "That ruling is going to affect some of our producers who have been in some very wet areas the last few years."


Other options, such as enrolling such long-wet acres in the Conservation Reserve Program or wetland set-asides, might be the way to go for some farmers in that situation, Lilja said.

Jumping the gun can be worse than getting the crop in a little late, said Jeff Coulter, corn agronomist with the University of Minnesota.

"There's no sense in trying to 'mud' the crop in at this point," he said, because that will cause problems such as compaction of soil around roots and crusting the surface.

"I'm still pretty hopeful it's going to be a pretty good year," Coulter said. "It's only April 25. If we get in the field early next week . . . I think we will be fine."

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