Farmers try to balance their desire to plant corn early with concerns that weather conditions could turn cold and wet
Everything but the calendar says it’s time to plant corn.
Even so, many Corn Belt farmers are already in the field with their planters.
"If it remains warm and dry, I think there will be a lot of guys planting before Easter," says Jeff Hartz, director of marketing for Wyffels Hybrids, Geneseo, Ill. The company’s core markets are in Illinois, Iowa, southern Wisconsin, and the Ohio River Valley.
Just how much corn will be planted this week is anyone’s guess.
"We know farmers are electing to plant earlier, but I’m hearing they’re not going full bore. They’re planting 60 acres here and 40 there, knowing there is some risk," says Josh St. Peters, corn marketing manager for Pioneer.
Potential upsides to planting early: corn has the opportunity to emerge, get a strong start and pollinate ahead of high temperatures and dry conditions.
Potential down sides to early planting are the risk of frost and/or a prolonged cold snap.
"The latest extended forecast we've seen shows a potential cold snap coming down from Canada in early April. That could be a dangerous proposition," Hartz notes.
Adds St. Peters: "We’re asking our growers to look ahead at the weather forecast and try to not plant when it’s going to be cold."
Farmers who opt to move forward with planting early may benefit from planting corn at between 1.75" and 2" in depth, according to Brad Miller, Ohio territory agronomist for DeKalb.
Miller says planting deeper than usual may delay emergence but protect the corn crop in the process, as the growing point of a corn plant remains under ground typically until the V5 to V6 growth stage.
"This will help protect the crop from damage by frost and may allow it to recover if a frost does occur," he says.
He adds: "Typically, corn is more likely to recover during earlier stages of growth, but as it matures into later stages, V4 and beyond, there are fewer reserves left in the seed to support re-growth of the plant. The other risk is that if a freeze is severe enough, it could kill the growing point even while still beneath the soil surface."
Frozen corn means farmers would have to go through the expense and time of replanting fields. They would also run the risk of not getting the highest quality genetics the second time around.
"If you were lucky enough to get the best products for your farm the first time around, you were fortunate. There is the possibility you may not be able to get them a second time," says Hartz.
St. Peters agrees, adding: "Their initial hybrid may not be available for replant, but we would have other quality seed available."
Many seed companies experienced some degree of difficulty getting seed corn delivered to farmers this year. Those challenges stemmed from a couple of things. A number of winter production sites in South America experienced heat stress at pollination, which undercut seed quality and overall seed production. Transportation challenges also played havoc with U.S. seed availability this spring.
A good reason to wait. Farmers who are itching to plant corn now may want to consult their crop insurance policy first before they roll planters into their fields, advises Gary Schnitkey, University of Illinois agricultural economist. He says insurance policies often have specific dates that limit when farmers can start the planting process, if they expect their insurance coverage—i.e. replant payments—to be in effect.
For corn crops in 2012, Schnitkey says insurance formulas indicate a maximum replant payment of up to $45.44 per acre would be available to qualifying farmers.
Roger Elmore, Iowa State University Extension agronomist, says April 11 is the key insurance date for corn in Iowa. Even so, he says farmers need to be cautious about planting then.
"Once we cross the April 11 crop insurance date, if soil temperatures are in the high 40s and rising, plant if soil conditions are favorable and conditions are expected to remain that way for five to seven days, or improve," he says.
Planting in early to mid-April can payoff, notes Hartz.
"We’re saying it pays to wait," notes Hartz. "All the benefits you get by planting now you’ll still get through much of April. Let’s take advantage of the benefits but not put the crop under increased risk."
St. Peters says he encourages corn growers who plan to plant this week to call their seed sales representative to check on the ability of their hybrids to handle cold stress. "Our hybrids have stress emergent and high residue suitability scores available, so they’ll know whether to plant those products," he says, adding: "If they’re planting into a high residue then there’s another set of factors to consider. If you’re planting two or three weeks earlier than usual, a phone call would be well worth your time."
Miller says farmers have little to nothing to lose by waiting: "Growers may be wise to leave their planters in the shed for a couple more weeks, waiting for when the risk from adverse temperatures is greatly reduced," he says, adding. "This time may be best utilized for planter and sprayer maintenance and calibration."