Northern States Face a Frosty Spring

March 27, 2014 01:15 AM
Northern States Face a Frosty Spring

Editor's note: What should you expect in USDA's March 31 Prospective Plantings report? editors are providing you in-depth looks at six key regions that will affect this year’s acreage mix.

While the acreage mix in northern states is expected to remain fairly steady this year, there is one issue that producers can’t ignore: a cold spring and the possibility of late planting.

TheNortheastAs of March 26, several northern states still have snow on the ground, and the National Weather Service (NWS) is reporting below-average temperatures and flood risk for the area through April.

"The continuation of winter weather, above-average snowpack, frozen ground and thick ice coverage on streams and rivers will delay spring flooding into April in the upper Midwest eastward to New England. The intensity of the flooding will depend on the rate of snow and ice melt, and future rainfall," NWS reports.

With this cold, wet forecast in mind, here's a look at four key crop states in the north.

New York

In 2013, farmers in New York intended to plant 1.2 million acres of corn, the highest number of acres in the past three years. But Bill Cox, crop specialist with Cornell University, predicts that corn acres in the state will drop slightly this year.

"Corn silage may be up because of strong milk prices, but corn for grain will be down," he says. With corn prices down, he expects more farmers to switch to soybeans.

"Soybeans should go up to 350,000 acres," he continues. Last year, the intended soybean acreage was set at 325,000 acres, but Cox says only 280,000 got planted due to wet spring conditions.
"Wheat may be up 10% because farmers used preventive planting on beans, and could plant wheat in September," he adds.

To that effect, Cox says farmers in his state are concerned about having another wet spring, and rightly so. One farmer in Steuben County reported to Crop Comments in early March that his fields were more or less frozen.

"Was out in my corn field. One foot of ice, no snow over it. Looks like a big storm next week will bury it under more," the farmer said.

NWS predicts below-normal temperatures through April and minor flood risk for the state this spring. However, Cox says that planting could start around mid- to late April, provided soil conditions are dry.


The weather in Pennsylvania has also been frosty, which means planting could get off to slow start there as well. The state has begun the year with exceptionally chilly temperatures, and NWS is predicting colder-than-average weather to continue through April.

"It has been one of the colder starts to the year, with most regions averaging 3 to 5 degrees below normal for the first 10 weeks of 2014, the coldest beginning since 1994," reports Paul Knight, Penn State climatologist. "There are no signs of prolonged warmth as we approach April."

The state's prospective acreage for both corn and soybeans has only slightly increased over the past three years, with 1.48 million acres of corn and 560,000 acres of soybeans intended for 2013.
One farmer in Somerset County reports to Crop Comments that they would be planting 50% corn, 40% soybeans and 10% oats. Another farmer in Venango County said he would be planting a mixture of corn and oats, and expects to start planting around mid- to late-April.


The weather is definitely on the minds of Minnesota producers, judging by Crop Comments reports.

"Nine degrees this morning," said a producer from Lac Qui Parle. "Pretty cold for the second day of spring. Really dry here. Need some rain this spring."

"Fifteen to 20 inches of snow on the ground yet and huge snowbanks," said a Stearns County farmer. "Supposed to be below zero again this weekend. This is looking just like last year and the crop was a dud." That grower intends to plant 50% corn, 35% soybeans and 10% small grains.

Jeff Coulter, corn specialist with University of Minnesota Extension, agrees that weather is a concern.

"There is still a fair amount of snow cover in central, east-central and northwestern Minnesota. All areas have fairly deep frost depth this year," he says.

But, he adds, "Things can turn around in a hurry if the weather cooperates."

He expects planting to occur earlier in the west-central, southwestern and southern parts of the state due to less snow cover.

"The early-planting regions may begin corn planting around April 25-30, but it could be a few days earlier or later depending on air temperatures, snow and rainfall that occur between now and then," he explains. "These expected planting dates are similar to the long-term average."

NWS is predicting below-average temperatures through April with a moderate flood risk this spring.

Last year, Minnesota farmers intended to plant 9 million corn acres, and Coulter says he expects that number to remain steady. But, he says, there were a lot of preventive planting acres in the state last year.

"It is unlikely that we will see that again, so the final number of acres of corn that are planted in Minnesota could be higher than those of last year," he says. "But, prospective planting acres for corn should be similar or slightly down from last year."

He says corn yields in the state have been relatively stable over the years despite varying weather conditions, because the pollination period there falls around late July and early August.

"In other words, growers can expect average to above-average corn yields, and they will likely get them," he says. "Soybean yields are less predictable and often relate to late-season precipitation."

"But," he adds, "recent soybean projections for production and returns have been looking favorable, so some farmers that planted a high percentage of corn last year may back off a bit and consider a few more soybean acres."

Which is exactly what a Norman County producer reported to Crop Comments: "Corn prices are too low. Just soybeans and wheat this year."


For the past few years, Wisconsin's corn acreage has remained steady--about 4.35 million acres--but it's possible that could change this year.

"We are going back to a more normal ratio of 60/40 corn to beans. Last year and in 2012, it was 80/20," a western Wisconsin farmer reported to Crop Comments. "We are also seeding down 100 acres back into hay ground for selling cash hay. That was marginal ground."

Wisconsin, like Minnesota, is also expecting below-normal temperatures and moderate flood risk this spring. But at least one producer isn't willing to let the possibility of late planting bother him too much.

"The only date that is important is the optimum planting date for the area that you live and farm in," a Trempealeau County farmer said to Crop Comments. "Only after that date happens, should we even start talking about late planting.

"Just look back to 2012, when we had the earliest planting ever. How good did that work out for everyone?"

AgWeb’s Ongoing Prospective Plantings Preview Reports

Stay tuned for more regional reports and pre-report analysis of USDA's March 31 Prospective Plantings report. Here's a lineup of upcoming articles: 
  • March 28: The Delta (Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee)

What will you plant this year? Submit your crop plans to AgWeb Crop Comments by emailing



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