Focus on Ag: Slow start to spring fieldwork in northern Corn Belt
Spring fieldwork has been slow to begin in many portions of the Upper Midwest in 2023; however, conditions are much different in other areas of the Corn Belt.
Except for a few brief stints of some warmer temperatures, very cool weather conditions have existed throughout the Upper Midwest during the last half of April. This has resulted in soil conditions that have not been conducive for good corn planting in many areas. Frequent rainfall events in portions of the region have added to the planting delays, as well as a slow snow melt in large portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, and the northern half of Minnesota. In addition, flooding near the Mississippi River and some of its tributaries will likely delay corn and soybean planting in those areas.
Normally by late April, Midwest farmers have a good start on Spring fieldwork and have begun the planting season for the year. However, April of 2023 has been much different in the northern portions of the Corn Belt, as cold temperatures and wet soil conditions have persisted across most of the region.
For farm operators that were able to plant a small amount of corn during April, there is now some concern about the seedling viability of that corn due to the extended period cool and damp soil conditions that has existed across the region. The good news is that the weather forecast for the first week of May appears to be much more favorable for the initiation of full-scale fieldwork in many areas of the Upper Midwest.
At the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, Minnesota, the average 24-hour air temperature during the week of April 20-26 was only 37.6 degrees Fahrenheit (F), which was over 10 degrees F below normal. Other than a few days from April 9-15, the average air temperature at Waseca has remained below 50 degrees F at most times during April. The minimum temperature at Waseca site dipped below 32 degrees F on 8 days during the last half of April. The April weather pattern in Southern Minnesota in 2023 has been very similar to conditions a year ago in April of 2022 across the region. By comparison, at the Waseca site in 2021 the average air temperature for the entire month of April was 45.9 degrees F and the maximum daily temperature exceeded 60 degrees F on 13 days.
The average soil temperature at the 2-4 inch level since April 16 at the Waseca research location has remained below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (F), with the exception of April 28, when average soil temperatures briefly was near 60 degrees F. It does appear that there should be some improvement in average soil temperatures in the Upper Midwest during the first week of May, which should be more conducive for good corn seed germination and early corn seedling development.
The long-term average soil temperatures at the end of April at Waseca are typically in the mid-50’s at the 2-4 inch level. Research has shown that 50 percent corn emergence will occur in 20 days at an average soil temperature of 50 degrees F, which is reduced to only 10 days at an average temperature of 60 degrees F. At soil temperatures below 50 degrees F, seed germination is very slow and corn seedling vigor is greatly reduced.
Even though planting dates have been delayed in many areas of the Upper Midwest, most University and private agronomists are encouraging producers to be patient with initiating field work, and to wait until soil conditions are fit for good corn planting and seed germination. Given the high cost per acre of seed corn, and the limited availability of some of the best yielding corn hybrids in 2023, most growers do not want to take the risk of planting corn into poor soil conditions. Normally, in early May, the soil temperatures warm up quite rapidly, so concern over cool soil temperatures becomes less of an issue. It is expected that full-scale corn planting will resume as soon as the field conditions dry out and are fit for planting. Most likely, farm operators will move directly into soybean planting once they have completed their corn acres, or will plant some soybeans on fields that are ready if corn planting is delayed on some farms.
Timely corn planting in the Upper Midwest is usually one of the key factors to achieving optimum corn yields in a given year. According to research at land-grant universities and by private seed companies, the “ideal time window” to plant corn in Upper Midwest in order to achieve optimum yields, if soil conditions are fit for planting, is typically from about April 20 to May 10.
Even though corn planting is off to very slow start in 2023, compared to other years, the good news is that there are still opportunities for timely planting and close to optimal yields.
Based on long-term research, the reduction in optimum corn yield potential with planting dates from May 10-15 in many areas of the region is usually very minimal and is quite dependent on the growing season weather that follows. Even corn planted from May 15-25 has a good chance of producing 90-95 percent of optimum yield potential, assuming that there are favorable growing conditions following planting. The ideal window to plant soybeans in the Upper Midwest and to still achieve optimum yields starts in late April and extends until mid-May or even beyond in some years, so there is still plenty of time to get the 2023 soybean crop planted.
A good example of later corn planting dates with favorable yield results was a year ago in 2022. Following a brief early corn planting period in late-April, most of the corn last year across Southern and Western Minnesota was planted during a period that extended about May 5-20, which ended with a record statewide average corn yield of 195 bushels per acre in 2022. On the other hand, the corn planting dates were also delayed in the 2019 crop year in many portions of Minnesota.
The statewide average corn yield in 2019 was only 173 bushels per acre, which was the lowest statewide corn yield in recent years. The biggest difference in those years was that the growing conditions after planting in 2022 were almost ideal in many areas from late May until early July. By comparison, the 2019 corn crop was planted late into poor soil conditions, which was followed by less-than-ideal conditions throughout much of the growing season.
The USDA Weekly Planting Progress Report released on April 24 indicated that 14 percent of the intended U.S. corn acreage for 2023 was planted by that date. This compares to only 7 percent of the corn planted by that date in 2022 and a five-year average of 11 percent planted. Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota all had less than one percent of the intended corn planted as of April 24 this year. On the other hand, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Indiana and Ohio are all well ahead of the normal pace for corn planting in late April. A year ago in 2022, no States in the Midwest, other than Nebraska, had more than 5 percent of the corn planted by April 23.
Based on the March 1st USDA Planting Intentions Report, U.S. crop producers were expected to plant nearly 92 million acres of corn and 87.5 million acres of soybeans in 2023. Most farm operators in the Upper Midwest will likely not switch intended 2023 corn acres to soybeans unless the corn planting dates get extended into late May or beyond. By April, producers have typically finalized decisions for seed, fertilizer, and other crop inputs for the growing season, so they are likely to continue with their planned crop rotations as long as possible.
In addition, there is not currently a big advantage in the projected market price at harvest this year for either corn or soybeans. New crop corn and soybean prices for the Fall of 2022 have declined considerably in recent weeks due to softening export demand and the above normal planting progress in some of the key growing States in the Corn Belt.
One piece of good news for farm operators in many portions of the Upper Midwest is that recent rainfall and wet snowfall weather events have helped ease drought conditions in many locations. Many areas are entering the 2023 growing season in much better shape for stored soil moisture than they were following harvest in 2022.
There are still large segments of Nebraska, Kansas and other Plains States facing potential drought conditions as we begin the 2023 growing season. Portions of Western Iowa and South Dakota also remain drier than normal for early May. There should be adequate soil moisture this year for good corn and soybean germination and early season plant growth in most areas of the Upper Midwest.
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.