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US Should Expect Stormy, Cooler Planting Season

13 April 2011

US - Farmers should avoid rushing into their fields but rather wait for the right conditions as the planting season begins amid forecasts of a stormy and cooler-than-normal spring, a Purdue Extension agronomy specialist advises.

This map of the continental United States shows the precipitation probability for the month of April. "A" means above normal, "B" below normal and "EC" equal chances of normal, above- and below-normal precipitation. (Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service)

"The main two words for this spring are 'Be patient,'" Tony Vyn said.

Farmers who till and plant their fields only when soil conditions are optimal stand a better chance of being rewarded at harvest with higher yields, Vyn said. At a time when commodity prices are so high, he said some farmers might be too anxious to start planting their potentially highest gross-income corn crop ever.

"Although it is understandable that corn farmers want to plant the bulk of their intended acreage in a timely manner, minimizing their risk of yield-limiting planting delays should not be their top concern in April," he said.

At this point, limiting soil compaction in and below the seedbed is most important, Vyn said. Running tillage equipment and planters on soaked fields can compact the soil, limit corn root growth when it dries, and reduce yields and, therefore, income.

"Do not rush soil preparation and planting where rooting ability will be impaired," Vyn said. "Be kind to your soil this year. It is your livelihood."

Stormy weather that Indiana and other northern cornbelt states endured over the winter is expected to continue, according to the Indiana State Climatologist Dev Niyogi. The culprit is La Niña, whose cool Pacific Ocean air continues to stir up storms across the northern states.

Because many soils were saturated during the winter, continued storms from La Niña will increase the chances of flooding this spring.

Although La Niña is expected to weaken later in the spring, cool and wet conditions in northern states could extend into early summer because of lingering wet soils.

Drought that had gripped Indiana since last fall has ended because of the La Niña-driven snow and rain over the winter. Most of the northern half of the state, however, still was abnormally dry in early April.

Vyn said Indiana farmers should not determine their need for planting progress by what they achieved last year, when planting and harvest were unusually early; an early start does not necessarily result in a bigger crop. Last year, 71 percent of the corn crop was planted by the first week of May, with farmers ultimately harvesting an average of 157 bushels per acre. At the same point in 2009, however, farmers had planted only 5 percent of corn, but yields averaged 171 bushels per acre â€" a record.

"Just because you're delayed somewhat compared with 2010 or more normal years such as 2005 to 2008 doesn't automatically mean you're limiting yield potential," he said. Corn yields depend more on weather conditions during flowering and early grain fill.

Vyn said he would not be too concerned with planting progress until the first week of May, when half of the corn crop typically is planted. He is even less concerned about soybeans at this time because planting for that crop usually lags two weeks behind corn.

Much of the pre-planting field preparation work, such as primary tillage and bulk nutrient or lime applications, has been done in Indiana, Vyn said. Some corn planting began the first weekend of April.

Vyn encouraged farmers to read publications that can help them better manage their field operations, such as how to use nitrogen fertilizer most effectively.

"While farmers are waiting for their soils to dry before planting, they should double-check whether they have planned for sufficient nitrogen fertilizer," he said. "In many farms, pre-plant nitrogen has already been applied, but more will soon be applied on other farms that apply pre-emerge or side-dress nitrogen."

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