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May 8, 2002

Lost planting days not time to panic, specialists say

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. – Farmers may be wringing their hands over lost planting days, but it isn't yet time to reach for the panic button, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service specialists said today (Wednesday, 5/8) during a news briefing at the Purdue Extension Hamilton County Office.

Waterlogged fields and an overabundance of rain has pushed corn and soybean planting well past both last year's record early planting and the five-year planting average. Despite the delays, there remains sufficient time to put corn seed in the ground. Farmers have even longer to get the soybean crop in.

Still, with rain continuing to fall over already saturated Indiana fields, the planting calendar has become an issue, said Ralph Gann, chief statistician at the Purdue-based Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service.

"This past Monday our latest report for the state of Indiana suggested that we have about 10 percent of our corn planted at this point," Gann said. "That now puts us two full weeks behind average. This time a year ago we had over 80 percent of the corn planted in the state of Indiana, and producers were beginning to move on into soybeans and beginning to relax.

"What makes this frustrating is we're two weeks behind, and with all the recent rain we're looking at yet further delays before people can actually get back into the fields and start doing much field activity."

Most of the corn planted in Indiana this spring was planted last Thursday, Friday and Saturday (5/2-5/4), Gann said. To date, 14 percent of corn acres are planted in northern counties. About 9 percent of the central Indiana corn is planted, with only 3 percent in southern counties.

Statewide, 2 percent of the soybean acreage is planted. By May 10 last year, 65 percent of the soybean crop was planted.

It is too early to predict how the slow planting pace will affect farm incomes, said Chris Hurt, Extension agricultural economist. Based on current commodity market activity, it might be wise for farmers to consider shifting corn acres to soybeans, he said.

"We continue to see soybeans look quite favorable, in terms of economic returns," Hurt said. "So the first thing we have to say is just because corn is not getting planted in what many would say is the optimum time window, there still is a very good planting alternative in very late May and on into June.

"In fact, our budgets, with a normal yield scenario, expect soybeans to do as well, or better, in terms of economic returns than what corn would do this year."

Earlier this spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Indiana farmers would plant 6 million acres of corn and 5.4 million acres of soybeans. With wet weather keeping them out of fields, Hurt predicted farmers may move as many as 300,000 corn acres to soybeans. A similar shift occurred in 1996, he said.

Acreage shifts also are expected in other Midwest farm states, as rainy weather patterns begin to envelop states to Indiana's west. Farmers could switch from corn to soybeans on 1 million acres nationwide, Hurt said.

Until Monday's Indiana crop progress report, commodities markets were unconcerned about planting delays. Not any longer. Corn prices rose 5 cents in Tuesday's (5/7) trading, Hurt said.

Ideally, farmers would be finishing their corn planting this week, said Bob Nielsen, Extension corn specialist. However, he cautioned against assuming lost planting days already mean lower yields. Many factors, including weather, determine crop production, he said.

"We often talk about the optimum planting window for corn. We generally say that window begins toward the end of April and it closes just about now, around May 10," Nielsen said.

"After May 10 is when we start figuring in some rules of thumb for yield losses because of that delayed planting. From about May 10 forward we begin losing between 1 and 2 bushels per acre per day. So you can imagine that begins to add up pretty quickly. We're looking at a lot of ground that may not get planted until closer to the end of the month, and that's roughly 20-some days from now. You're starting to look at some serious yield losses."

But, "If Mother Nature would shape up, we still could end up with some good yields," Nielsen said.

Farmers also need not trade in their conventional corn hybrids for earlier-maturing varieties yet, Nielsen said. They might consider the faster-maturing hybrids if planting is postponed to early June.

Nielsen encouraged producers to make planting corn their first priority as fields dry. Nitrogen fertilizer may be applied to crops later, after plants emerge, he said. Depending on weed growth, farmers may be forced to apply herbicides before planting, he said.

The latest corn should be planted is mid-June, Nielsen said.

Soybean planting is just beginning to enter its optimum period, said Ellsworth Christmas, Extension soybean specialist. The best period runs from about May 5 to May 20, he said.

In fact, the earlier soybeans go in the ground, the greater potential for problems, Christmas said.

"You look at the growth and development of the soybean plant and you don't need that plant out there from early to mid-April through mid-May," he said. "You get just as good a yield or better, in some instances, in planting in mid-May than you do in mid-April. The reason is because of disease problems associated with cool, damp soils."

Writer: Steve Leer, 765-494-8415, sleer@purdue.edu

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

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

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

Ellsworth Christmas, (765) 494-6373, echristmas@purdue.edu

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

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


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