For the second year in a row, a late Winter storm in mid-April has pushed back the initiation of Spring fieldwork in the Upper Midwest. Normally by third week of April, Midwest farmers have either begun fieldwork for the year, or are within days of the beginning of the planting season. However, in 2019, just as in 2018, a major April storm with high amounts of snowfall, freezing rain, and high precipitation amounts hit Minnesota and the surrounding States. Now with more rainfall likely, it appears that it could be May 1st or later before full-scale fieldwork begins in many areas of the region.
The heaviest snowfall amounts occurred in parts of West Central and Southwest Minnesota, along with adjoining areas of Eastern South Dakota. While other areas of Southern Minnesota had lower snowfall totals, these regions also dealt with a severe ice storm, that caused major power outages and poor road conditions, along with some tree and property damage. Most areas of the Western Corn Belt have totally saturated soils, which will require extra days of drying before being fit for Spring fieldwork. One piece of good news in Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa, compared to a year ago, is that most of the frost is out of the ground and April temperatures have been a bit warmer in 2018.
Early corn planting in the Upper Midwest is usually one of the key factors to achieving optimum corn yields in a given year. Crop research by universities and private seed companies indicates that the ideal planting date for corn in Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa, when soil conditions are fit, is typically from about April 20 to May 10. However, the ideal planting date for corn varies somewhat from year-to-year, depending on soil temperatures and soil conditions. Good corn yields can still be achieved when planting dates are extended into mid-May. For example, in 2017, following some early corn planting in mid-April, a significant amount of corn in Southern Minnesota was planted during a period that extended into mid-May, which ended with above average corn yields for many producers.
Crop consultants and agronomists are encouraging producers to be patient, once the snow melts and the topsoil begins to dry out, before initiating fieldwork. Tilling fields to early can result in poor seedbeds and result in less than ideal planting conditions, which can lead to crop emergence problems. Even though corn planting dates may be later than desired, it may be prudent to wait a few extra days to begin corn planting, in order to allow field conditions to reach more optimum levels. Research shows that 50 percent corn emergence will occur in 20 days at an average soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is reduced to only 10 days with an average soil temperature of 60 degrees F. Hopefully, warmer soil temperatures in May will result in improved early season growing conditions.
Based on the March 1st USDA Planting Intentions Report, Minnesota crop producers are expected to plant 8 million acres of corn and 7.3 million acres of soybeans in 2019. Iowa farmers are projected to plant 13.6 million acres of corn and 9.4 million acres of soybeans. Most farm operators will likely not switch intended 2019 corn acres to soybeans, unless corn planting dates get extended into late May or beyond. By April, producers typically have made arrangements for seed, fertilizer, and other crop inputs for the growing season, so they are likely to continue with their planned crop acres for the year.
2019 spring wheat acreage in the U.S is projected at 12.83 million acres, which includes 6.7 million acres in North Dakota, 1.53 million acres in Minnesota, and just over 1 million acres in South Dakota. If the spring wheat planting dates are extended much beyond May 1 in the primary growing areas, some of those intended spring wheat acres may be switched to soybean acres for 2019.
Historically, early planting dates for corn usually leads to higher than normal State average corn yields in Minnesota. In fact, in seven of the nine years that 50 percent or more of the State’s corn acres have been planted in April, Minnesota has set a record corn yield. This included the record corn yields of 194 bushels per acre in 2017, 193 bushels per acre in 2016 and 188 bushels per acre in 2015. In 2017, after some favorable planting conditions during the third week of April, the State’s corn planting percentage was at 57 percent on April 30.
Given the current field conditions and weather conditions in mid-April, it may be difficult to achieve a record corn yield in 2019 in many areas of the Upper Midwest, unless field conditions in the region improve dramatically in the next few weeks. Most producers in Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa are hoping that we do not have a repeat of the 2018 growing season, when persistent above normal precipitation throughout the Spring and Summer lead to very poor corn yields in many areas. Some producers in South Central and Southwest Minnesota had their lowest corn yields in over two decades in 2018.
Most Midwest crop producers are facing very tight profit margins in 2019. Any significant reductions in crop yields for the year below the projected yields for a given farm operation, unless there are improved crop prices, will cause major financial issues for many farm operations by the end of the year. Improved Spring planting conditions in the next 4-5 weeks will be critical to crop yields and crop profitability in 2019 for Upper Midwest farm operators.