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May 1, 2002

Rain delay keeps farmers from planting, Indiana falls behind

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Indiana's soggy soils are keeping seed in the bags and out of the fields this spring.

According to Monday's (4/29) U.S. Department of Agriculture crop progress report, Indiana has 4 percent of its corn in the ground compared to 36 percent last year. The five-year average of corn planted by late April is 22 percent.

Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension agronomist, says the last two springs have been a bit unusual with very good planting conditions during much of April. By May 10 last year, producers had 94 percent of corn planted.

"We had very early starts to planting during the last couple of years and an extremely rapid close to planting last year," Nielsen says. "We are in a situation that has had above normal rainfall, and now we are at the beginning of May with very little corn or soybeans in the ground. Obviously farmers are anxious that have many acres to plant because that is a good deal of ground to cover."

Even though Hoosier farmers are behind this spring, Nielsen says the delayed planting date does not guarantee lower yields. Even though farmers may see better yields by planting in late April, the planting date is only one of many variables that influences corn yields.

States in the Western Corn Belt, such as Iowa and Illinois, have at least 25 percent of their corn planted, according to the USDA report. However, the markets are already recognizing there may be a reduction in corn acreage this year in some Eastern Corn Belt states, such as Indiana, says Chris Hurt, Purdue Extension agricultural economist.

"The markets are showing that close to 500,000 acres may shift from corn to soybeans across the United States," Hurt says. "The reaction that we've seen is not much strength in the price of corn and a little bit weaker soybean prices. At this point it is a modest shift, but I think if we go another week to 10 days without much progress, we may see a shift of 1 million acres."

Six of the last 10 years Indiana has planted only 7 percent of its corn crop on average by April 30, says Ralph Gann, state statistician for the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service located at Purdue University. The other four years were remarkably different as the state had one-third of the crop in the ground.

"We are in the mindset that early planting gives us a tremendous yield advantage," Gann says. "However, during the six years where we planted later than normal, we averaged 130 bushels an acre. The years we planted most of the crop in late April and early May, we averaged 142 bushels an acre. There is only around a 12 bushel an acre difference at the state level, although individual yield differences may be more substantial."

Hurt says 1993, 1996 and 1998 were similar to what producers are facing this season. Rainy conditions kept equipment out of the fields early on, but when the crop was harvested, two of the three years had yields above the projected average.

"Yield potential is really determined in July and August," Hurt says. "At this point we want to get the crop in the ground, but we also are building subsoil moisture. Traditionally, what we have in July and August is insufficient rainfall and the crop has to draw on that subsoil moisture. In that regard, this could be positive if we can still plant in a timely fashion."

Nielsen says it is critical that farmers get out and plant when they get the opportunity. Any fieldwork, such as nitrogen and herbicide applications, should be postponed or rearranged until after the crop is planted. Trips across the field for conventional tilling also can be reduced.

By making these modifications, Nielsen says producers could gain higher yields by avoiding further delays in planting caused by time spent on other field operations. He also says producers do not yet need to consider switching from full season hybrids to earlier season hybrids.

"If the weather is good and the soils are fit, we can plant an amazing amount of the acreage in one week," Nielsen says. "Last year in two weeks, we planted 80-90 percent of the crop. We could still have the majority of the crop planted by the middle of May if the weather clears up and the soil dries out."

Writer: Jennifer Doup, (765) 494-6682, doupj@purdue.edu

Sources: Bob Nielsen, (765) 494-4802, rnielsen@purdue.edu

Chris Hurt, (765) 494-4273, hurtc@purdue.edu

Ralph Gann, (765) 494-8371, rgann@nass.usda.gov

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Related Web sites:
Rainy Days, Soggy Soils & Idle Planters
Purdue Department of Agronomy's Chat 'n Chew Café
Purdue Agriculture News Hot Topics – Delayed Planting

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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