Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., May 20, 21 or 22
Driving from Peoria to the Mississippi River and back last week, it was tiring to listen to radio blowhards talk about government idiots breaking rules (if not laws and the Constitution) in considering tax-exempt status for advocacy groups and secretly seizing records of dozens of journalists doing their jobs. So the Jeep radio went silent and downstate Illinois scenery became the focus.
It looked like a tractor version of “Fast & Furious,” as farmers took advantage of a short respite from rain to actually start planting. Was that Paul Walker or Dwayne Johnson on that John Deere 7R in Henderson County?
In Knox County, farmer Ted Mottaz said he was anxious to start planting corn, delayed for weeks because of wet and unseasonably cold conditions.
“We haven’t put a seed in the ground yet,” said Mottaz, a board member of the Knox Farm Bureau and the Illinois Corn Growers Association. “It’s still pretty wet, and when it gets ponded like this, it increases the possibility of mortality.”
Current conditions mean just 17 percent of Illinois corn and hardly any of the state’s soybeans have been planted, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture report. In contrast, 94 percent of corn was planted at this time last year. Since 2008, an average of 64 percent of corn and 8 percent of soybeans would be planted by this week, the USDA said.
If corn isn’t planted soon, yields could be reduced by 1 percent per day during the next few weeks, experts say. And if planting hasn’t occurred by late June, yields could drop by half.
“We’re very concerned,” Mottaz said. “How are we going to keep up with demand for ethanol, for food products and so on? Whether it’s profit margins or feed for cattle, there could be a domino effect. It’s not a major deal yet, but it all adds up.”
In the Midwest, most farmers are in the same, soggy, boat. Farmers in Iowa and Indiana have planted 15% and 30% of planned corn (compared to 86% and 92%, respectively, in 2012), and Missouri’s at 22%8 (92% last year) and Wisconsin at 14% (54% in 2012).
Tim Foster, who farms corn and soybeans in the Fulton/Peoria County area, said he was eager to get going.
“I’m out here hunting and pecking, trying to find dry spots,” he said. But “what really counts in the weather in July, in the growing season.”
At the University of Illinois, crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger agreed, adding that it’s not yet time to panic.
“Early planting does not necessarily lead to high yields,” he said. “What happens after planting and through the rest of the season is more important than when we get the crop planted.”
Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, warned about comparing this year to last year.
“This year’s planting date should not be compared to last year’s average planting, which was 10 days ahead of normal,” he said.
Also, it’s not always wise to switch gears, she said.
“If corn is planted, do not switch to a shorter maturity date variety,” said Scheidt, who reminded producers that maturity levels in corn will move faster with increasing temperatures, and changing to an earlier maturing variety could result in corn pollinating too soon in the season.”
Further, “if you are thinking about switching from corn to soybeans, [the] costs and benefits of switching may not prove wise until planting is delayed until the last week of May,” she said.
It’s not surprising that few people are as concerned about getting soybeans planted, Nafziger said. Although in recent years, early planting of soybeans helped increase yield potential, corn typically loses yield faster than soybean as planting is delayed. So it makes sense to plant corn first, before soybeans, which are more sensitive to day length, meaning that later-planted soybeans flower in fewer days than earlier-planted ones, so planting delays only modestly delay maturity, he said.
Meanwhile, scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms are rolling in as this is written.
“It can be frustrating,” Mottaz said. “We have to remember that Mother Nature’s in charge. We every time farmers see each other, we say, ‘Be safe; be alert.’ I see the frustration when I see [tractor] ruts in a field, but don’t take any chances.”
Right. Leave that to the 21st century plowman: Vin Diesel.
[PICTURED: A toy from Applelandtoys.com.]