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Eastern Corn Belt Soaked, but Little Damage to Yield Prospects

02:35AM May 06, 2011

Soggy soils and continued rain from Indiana to Pennsylvania kept corn planting nearly at a standstill as of May 1, and progress since then has been slight at best.

“I don't think there will be any progress this week (in Indiana) except possibly in some isolated areas,” says Robert Nielsen, extension corn specialist at Purdue University. Even where rain held off for a couple of days this week, most fields didn't dry enough to plant. He expects the Crop Progress report next Monday will show less than 10% of the state's corn is in the ground.
As of May 1, farmers had planted 10 percent of their corn acreage in Illinois, but only 2 percent in Indiana and 1 percent in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Together, those states account for 23.8 million acres, or one-fourth of the corn acres farmers intend to plant this year. Compared to last year, growers expect to increase their corn plantings by 200,000 acres in Illinois, 250,000 acres in Ohio, and 50,000 acres in Pennsylvania. Indiana's intended acreage is steady from last year.
“We're getting some people locally mudding in some corn,” says Greg Roth, corn specialist at Pennsylvania State University. However, much of the state received rain at the middle of this week. “Our big corn growing areas in the south-central part of the state usually are well on their way now, but are not planting very much if at all,” says Roth.
However, the delays thus far may have little impact on corn production this fall.

Limited Yield Impact

By this time in 2009, Indiana planting was barely 10 percent completed, says Nielsen. In 2002, decent planting progress didn't develop until the third week in May. And in 1996—the most delayed planting year of the past two decades—progress finally took off in the last week of May.
“We know from those experiences, once the soils are fit and once we can string together a week's worth of panting every day, we can get 30 percent to 50 percent of the acres planted in a given week,” he says. “So within two or three weeks, we can make a heck of a dent in planting—if we can get those two or three weeks.”
Late planting doesn't lead necessarily to low yields, says Nielsen. He points to 2009 as an example. Less than half of Indiana's crop was in the ground by the third week of May, but the yield reached 8 percent higher than average. “The rest of the season was fantastic for yields,” he says. “There is no relationship between statewide planting progress and corn yield.”
Planting date is one of a hundred things that influence yield. Early planting dates don't assure high yields and late planting dates don't lead to low yields, says Nielsen, but planting date does change the odds to some degree.
“Rainfall is most important during the growing season,” he says. Behind rainfall, and related to lack of ran, is heat stress.
In Pennsylvania, Roth notes that research results vary, but one study there found that corn can partially compensate for reduced growing degree days during the season.

Spring Work Piling Up

A more immediate challenge for many Pennsylvania growers is the rising backlog of spring work they face.
Many dairy producers in Pennsylvania didn't get into fields to spread manure. “All of them have manure storage ready to overflow,” says Roth. “Before they can plant much corn, they have to spread manure.” And in the Lancaster area, dairy producers usually harvest rye forage and start cutting alfalfa in mid-May. “So they're really struggling to get all these important jobs done,” says Roth.
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