Time Running out for Corn Planting in Far North

08:22AM May 11, 2011
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In the upper reaches of corn country, the clock is ticking for growers on planting, due to what seems like a monsoon without relief this spring. That means more acres will be shifted to soybeans, if they are planted in anything at all.

“We have a 1,000 acre farm and we’ll be lucky to get 500 to 600 planted to crops this year,” says Mike Frey, Claremont, S.D. Brown County, where he farms, is the state’s No. 1 corn county and where a good share of the additional acres was going to come from in USDA’s March 31 Prospective Plantings report.
“The state will be lucky to get 400,000 of the 850,000 additional acres USDA forecast us having this year,” says Gary Duffy, president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association. Duffy has 30% of his corn planted, but wasn’t able to work any ground early this week because his Oldham, S. D. farm got 7/10 inches of rain Sunday.
Duffy is even ahead of the average. In its weekly Crop Progress report, USDA/NASS estimated that only 17% of South Dakota corn had been planted as of May 8. This compares to 45% in 2010, and a five-year average of 33%. In neighboring North Dakota, just 3% of corn was planted as of May 8, compared to 52% in 2010, and a 2006-10 average of 35%.
In Brown County, S.D., alone, 150,000 intended corn acres are at risk, estimates Ron Dodds, Brown County extension educator and agronomist. “We are significantly delayed.” One major problem is that the rains and flooding from rivers in North Dakota and South Dakota have been so extensive that overland flooding is preventing some farmers from getting to fields. That’s because many county roads are impassible. Even when producers can get to fields, they sometimes have to do so in unusual ways. One of Frey’s fields, for instance, is just two to three miles away, but he had to take his equipment in a round-about, 15 mile journey to get there.
Frey notes that some roads have water as high as three feet due to overland flooding, but because of damage, it won’t simply be a matter of the water going down. Some roads are going to need significant repair. “Some fields could be planted, but farmers can’t get to them. They can’t even get the fertilizer there,” says Dodds.
 If the weather stays dry over the next two weeks, it’s possible that no more than 400,000 corn acres in North Dakota will be lost compared to USDA’s planting intentions, says Joel Ransom, South Dakota State University agronomist. “But it’s hard to say what will happen if we get more rain.”
For much of North Dakota, the last date in which full insurance corn can safely be planted is May 25, while May 31 in some counties. After that, farmers will start thinking about shifting acres to soybeans, or short-season corn hybrids. Ransom says, however, that for those who have already put down fertilizer, the decision on shifting to soybeans will not be an easy one.
Duffy says that with a lot of time available for soybean planting, it’s too early to say with precision how many intended corn acres will go to beans, or whether some fields will have to be abandoned this year due to wet conditions.
“A lot of corn can be planted in 10 days’ time,” says Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association. “We’re not panicking yet but we are concerned with the forecast for even more wet weather,” he says. That said, “planting was late in 2009, but we had a pretty good yield.”
Lilja believes one thing is certain: USDA’s estimate of corn plantings to 2.5 million acres, up from 2 million in 2010, is not going to happen. “But we could still be up from last year.”
Lilja adds, though, that for the crop that does get planted, a lot will depend on the growing season with it getting in so late. “There will be less margin for error.”
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