Focus on Ag: Spring planting likely to be delayed in some areas
Many farmers across the Midwest are waiting for favorable weather to begin full-scale field work; however, early Spring rainfall and snowstorms, along with cold temperatures, have delayed the initiation of Spring fieldwork in most areas. It appears that the 2023 planting season may be somewhat later than recent years in much of North and South Dakota, as well as central and northern Minnesota. Many of these areas also experienced later than normal planting in 2022. Farmers are hopeful that favorable corn planting conditions develop in the last half of April and early May, which would still provide a nice window for optimal corn yields in 2023.
Once planting season is initiated, farmers in most areas should be well within the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) guidelines to maintain full crop insurance coverage for the 2023 corn and soybean crop. The earliest corn planting date allowed by RMA to maintain full crop insurance protection in most of Minnesota and Iowa is April 11, while April 21 is the earliest planting date allowed for soybean planting for full insurance coverage. For initial and final planting dates in all States and other Federal crop insurance information, please refer to the RMA website at: https://www.rma.usda.gov/.
Many areas of the Upper Midwest and Plains States have received some much-needed rainfall in late March and early April; however, there are still portions of the U.S. that remain quite dry heading into the Spring planting season. The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor on April 6 listed only small portion of the Midwest Stares, which include Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin as having any type of drought conditions, with some areas of western Iowa and Minnesota and the Dakota’s reporting abnormally dry conditions. A large area of Nebraska and Kansas, as well as the Southern Plains States, are still listed in more major drought categories as we enter the 2023 growing season, Overall, the drought situation in the U.S. has improved considerably from a year ago, when nearly the entire western half of the U.S. was listed in some category of advanced drought.
Beyond the variation in topsoil moisture conditions that exist across the Upper Midwest and Plains States, there is also a wide variation across the region in the amount of stored soil moisture, as we head into the 2023 crop year. Stored soil moisture levels in many areas were depleted to very low levels during the height of drought conditions in late Summer and Fall of 2022. However, in much of the Midwest, as well as in portions of North and South Dakota, have had some fairly significant recharge of stored soil moisture in late Winter and early Spring this year. In the areas of the Plains States that are listed in the more severe drought categories, available stored soil moisture will likely be a much bigger concern in the 2023 growing season.
Soil temperatures in early April have remained quite cold and below levels for ideal corn planting in many areas of the Upper Midwest. At the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center near Waseca in Southern Minnesota, the average 24-hour average soil temperature during the first week of April was below 35 degrees Fahrenheit at the 4-inch level. Soil temperatures in this range are well below the minimum desired soil temperature of 50 degrees for good corn planting and seed germination conditions.
Soil temperatures in the 2 to 4-inch range should warm up rapidly in Southern Minnesota, Iowa and the Central Corn Belt, with some much warmer temperatures expected in mid-April. Producers in the Northern Corn Belt will need to wait for the snow cover to melt and fields to dry out before worrying about soil temperatures. Farmers and agronomists tend to pay close attention to soil temperatures early in the growing season; however, soil temperatures become less of a concern by late April. At that point, getting the crop in the ground gets to be more of a priority rather than soil temperatures, as the ideal corn planting window gets much shorter at that point.
Research shows that 50 percent corn emergence will occur in 20 days at an average soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (F), which is reduced to only 10 days with an average soil temperature of 60 degrees F. The expected soil temperatures in the coming weeks in portions of the Midwest should provide favorable conditions to achieve good corn germination and early seedling growth. However, the continued cool soil temperatures in North and South Dakota, as well as in central and northern Minnesota, may be a challenge for good seed germination. The cool soil temperatures are also not very conducive for the initiation of soybean planting, as soybeans generally require even warmer soil temperatures than corn for good germination. Agronomists encourage producers to adjust to soil conditions and weather forecasts when making planting decisions, as every year is different.
Soil conditions have been slow to adjust to ideal planting conditions thus far in 2023 across most areas the Midwest. If we can avoid any further significant amounts of precipitation in the next couple of weeks and get some warmer temperatures, many crop producers in Iowa and Southern Minnesota, as well as some adjoining areas of the Midwest, should be able to begin full-scale corn planting once soil conditions are fit. Following the completion of corn planting, many farmers will be moving directly into planting their soybean crop, provided that field conditions remain favorable.
Historically, early planting of corn usually leads to higher-than-normal State average corn yields in Minnesota and other Upper Midwest States. In the past decade, when 50 percent or more of the corn acres in Minnesota have been planted in April or the first week of May, the State has usually set or been near a record corn yield. In 2015, corn planting in Minnesota was 83 percent completed by May 3, resulting in a record yield of 188 bushels per acre, which was followed with 89 percent of the corn planted by May 8 in 2016, again resulting in another record statewide corn yield of 193 bushels per acre. In 2020, when 76 percent of the corn was planted by May 3, the statewide corn yield was 192 bushels per acre, just short of the statewide record corn yield. 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 statewide record corn yield in 2017.
Last year was also an exception to this trend, when Minnesota had a record corn yield of 195 bushels per acre in 2022, even though the State did not achieve 50 percent of the corn planted until after May 15. However, a much higher percent of the corn in Southern Minnesota had been planted by May 10, and counties in the southern third of the State were largely responsible for the record statewide corn yield. Another exception was in 2021 when 71 percent of the statewide corn acreage was planted by May 3; however, the 2021 average corn yield in Minnesota was only 178 bushels per acre. This was due to drought conditions during the critical crop growing months of June and July that greatly reduced corn yields in many portions of the State. In areas of the State that received adequate rainfall at the critical times, the 2021 corn yields were above average to near record levels.
Provided there are favorable growing conditions later in the growing season, the common denominator for the exceptional corn yield years in Minnesota has been that a large majority of the State’s corn crop was planted by the end of April or in early May. Unless conditions turn very wet in the few weeks, a large majority of corn in much of Iowa, Southern Minnesota, and the Central Corn Belt could still be planted by late April and early May this year. Corn planting delays beyond the first half of May can significantly impact final corn yields.
Once farmers have completed planting their corn acres, most farm operators move directly to soybean planting. The ideal planting window for achieving favorable yields is much wider for soybeans than with corn. The ideal soybean planting timeframe in most areas of the Midwest extends from late April until about May 15 or slightly beyond, so there will be plenty of time to get the 2023 soybean crop planted. However, similar to earlier corn planting dates, research does show that with favorable growing conditions that there is a significant yield advantage by planting soybeans in late April or early May, as opposed to planting dates in the last half of May.
For additional information contact Kent Thiesse, farm management analyst and senior vice president, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, Minn., at 507-381-7960 firstname.lastname@example.org.