Focus on Ag: Crop planting advances rapidly

Kent Thiesse
Farm Management Analyst and Vice President, MinnStar Bank
Kent Thiesse

Corn and soybean planting across much of the Upper Midwest has progressed at a fairly rapid pace since late April and during the first 10 days of May.

Most areas have avoided the periods of excess rainfall and prolonged wet field conditions that greatly slowed spring planting progress in many portions of the region in both 2018 and 2019. Planting progress across southern Minnesota and Iowa is on a similar pace to last year, when a large majority of the corn and soybeans were planted in the last half of April and early May.

The biggest concern during planting season in many areas has been continued cooler than normal temperatures and rapidly drying topsoil conditions.

Crop producers in most areas of the U.S. have been planting corn, soybeans and other crops at a very fast pace. The weekly USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) crop progress report from May 3 showed that 46% of the anticipated U.S. corn crop was planted by May 2, which was an increase of 29% from the previous week. This represented the largest weekly increase in U.S. corn planting progress since 2015.

By comparison, 48% of U.S. corn was planted by the same date in 2020. The 5-year average is 36% for corn planted by May 2. The May 10 crop progress report is likely to show continued rapid progress with the planting of the 2021 U.S. corn and soybean crop.

Iowa lead the way on May 2, with 69% of the anticipated 2021 corn crop planted, which compares to only 20% planted a week earlier. Iowa had 72% of corn planted by that date in 2020, with both 2020 and 2021 being well above the 5-year average of 45% of  corn planted by May 2.

Similarly, Minnesota had 60% of the expected 2021 corn acres planted by May 2, which was an increase from 18% a week earlier and is well above the 5-year average of 32%; however, it trails the 71% planted acres in 2020.

The 2021 corn planting progress in other major corn producing states on May 2 included Illinois at 54%, Indiana at 32%, Nebraska at 42%, Ohio at 22%, Wisconsin at 27%, South Dakota at 25% and North Dakota at 14%, all of which were above the 5-year (2016-2020) average planting progress by that date.

The May 2 NASS report showed 24% of the 2021 U.S. soybean crop planted, compared to 21% planted in 2020 and a 5-year average of 11%.

Iowa had 43% of the anticipated 2021 soybean acres planted by May 2, compared to 41% in 2020 and a 5-year average of 14%. Minnesota had 23% of the anticipated soybean crop planted by May 2, which compares to 31% in 2020 and a 5-year average of 9%.

The 2021 soybean planting progress in other states included Illinois at 41%, Indiana at 24%, Nebraska at 20%, Ohio at 17%, Wisconsin at 16%, South Dakota at 8% and North Dakota at 2%, most of which are well above the 5-year average soybean planting progress rates.

Historically, early planting of corn usually results in higher than normal state average corn yields in Minnesota. In six of the eight years that 50% or more of the state’s corn acres have been planted in April, Minnesota has set a record corn yield.

In 2015, corn planting in Minnesota was 83% completed by May 3, resulting in a record yield of 188 bushels per acre, which was followed with 89% of the corn planted by May 8 in 2016, again resulting in another record statewide corn yield of 193 bushels per acre. One exception was in 2017, when most of Minnesota’s corn was planted in the first two weeks of May. Very favorable growing conditions throughout the year in most areas resulted in a statewide record corn yield of 194 bushels per acre in 2017.

The common denominator in exceptional corn yield years in Minnesota has been that a majority of the state’s corn crop was planted by the end of April or in early May, which occurred again in 2021.

Soil conditions this spring have been described as almost ideal for corn planting by farm operators and agronomists in many areas of the Upper Midwest, which has allowed farmers to move directly to soybean planting once they finished corn planting.

Most soybean producers in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa strive to plant soybeans from late April until mid-May in order to optimize yields; however, the ideal window to plant soybeans and still achieve very satisfactory yields is much wider than with corn.

Similar to corn planting dates, research does show that with favorable growing conditions, there is a yield advantage to planting soybeans in late April or early May as opposed to planting in late May.

Cooler than normal soil temperatures have been the biggest crop production concern in late April and early May. The 24-hour average soil temperatures at the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center near Waseca on April 7 and 8 was near 60 degrees at the 2-4 inch level and above 50 degrees at the 8-inch level.

By mid-April, average soil temperatures at all levels dropped below 50 degrees and only rose into the low-to-mid 50s a few times during the rest of April, which greatly slowed the germination and emergence of the newly planted corn and soybeans in some areas. A few warmer days in early May have pushed soil temperatures close to the levels that existed back in early April and resulted in improved soil conditions.

Research shows that 50% corn emergence will occur in 20 days at an average soil temperature of 50 degrees, which is reduced to only 10 days with an average soil temperature of 60 degrees. The forecast for temperatures will certainly provide favorable conditions for corn and soybean germination and seedling growth.

Much of the corn in the Upper Midwest that was planted from April 15-20 started to emerge May 6-10, which emphasizes the cooler than normal soil temperatures across the region in recent weeks. Much of the region has also been receiving lower than normal amounts of rainfall this spring as well.

The Research Center in Waseca, MN received 0.62 inches of precipitation in April and less than 0.30 inches since May 1, which is about 3 inches below normal for that period.

Drought concerns increase

Continued dryer than normal weather remains a concern in many areas of the northern and western Corn Belt, as well as most areas of the Plains States.

The U.S. Drought Monitor on May 4 listed over 46% of the United States in either a moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional drought, primarily in the Western half of the country. This is only the fourth time since USDA has been tracking drought data that the U.S. drought index has been at that high of a level in May. Nearly the entire state of North Dakota, northern South Dakota and eastern Montana are listed as being under an extreme drought, as is most of the southwest U.S. from California to west Texas. Much of Nebraska, Iowa, southern Minnesota and Wisconsin are listed as abnormally dry to having moderate drought condition.

According to USDA data, 26% of the U.S. corn production area is currently in some level of drought, as well as 22% of the soybean production area and 35% of the primary wheat production area. In addition, 36% of the cattle producing area of the U.S. is in moderate to extreme drought conditions, which is especially critical in the beef cow/calf production areas of North Dakota and South Dakota.

Recent rainfall events in the Upper Midwest have been quite spotty, with fairly modest precipitation amounts. Spring levels of many rivers and streams in the region are at the lowest levels in several years.

Once corn and soybeans germinate and emerge, drought is usually not a major concern until late June and July, when corn is growing rapidly and reaches the tasseling and pollination stage. This will certainly bear watching in 2021, especially in the extremely dry areas of the Upper Midwest that have very limited stored soil moisture.

For additional information contact Kent Thiesse, farm management analyst and senior vice president, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, Minn., at (507) 381-7960 or kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com, or visit www.minnstarbank.com.