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home : local news : local news May 26, 2016

5/9/2013 10:45:00 AM
Still not too late to plant
April was a "second March," with wet, cool conditions delaying fieldwork.
It has been dry enough in some of the high spots for farmers to take to the fields, but they will continue to dodge showers in the coming days. (Tom Compton photo)
It has been dry enough in some of the high spots for farmers to take to the fields, but they will continue to dodge showers in the coming days. (Tom Compton photo)
Last year, many farmers across the state were wrapping up corn planting by May 1.

What a difference a year makes.

Thanks to an abundance of rain that was absent during last year's drought, little progress has been made in corn planting in Crawford County or elsewhere in the state.

There has been little significant planting done yet; according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, corn planting was at 1 percent May 1 and by Sunday was only up to 7 percent.

Last year at this time, corn planted was at 76 percent. The five-year average for corn planting is 36 percent.

Crawford County was hit with 6.19 inches of rain in April, with 1.60 inches falling in just the last week of the month. This was up from 4.05 inches in April 2012. Another 1.75 inches has fallen since May 1 and more rain is in the forecast for Thursday and Friday.

The heavy rains, combined with the cooler than normal temperatures during the past two weeks, have many fields still too wet for farmers to get into them.

Statewide temperatures averaged 59.5 degrees, 2.3 degrees below normal last week, while the precipitation was at 1.07 inches, 0.22 inches above normal. These cooler temperatures along with the wet fields resulted in two days suitable for fieldwork. The main farm activities for the week included planter and equipment preparation along with tending livestock.

Topsoil moisture was rated as 44 percent adequate and 56 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture was rated as 3 percent short, 72 percent adequate and 25 percent surplus.

April turned into a "second March," with wet weather and cool temperatures persisting into the last week of the month and leaving corn planting progress in Illinois stuck. Nationally, only 5 percent of the corn crop was planted by Sunday, and none of the Corn Belt states had more than 2 percent planted, according to University of Illinois crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger.

"The corn that has been planted is struggling mightily to survive the soil conditions and to emerge," Nafziger said. "If we are lucky enough to 'skip' another month and May begins to look more like a typical June, it's not too late to get the planting and crop back on track. So while yield potential will start to drop as we get further into May with planting, chances of a good corn crop remain high, as long as weather permits planting soon, and then returns to a more normal pattern of rainfall without summer drought periods like we've had the past three years in parts of Illinois.

"Most of our planting-date studies show that yield loss accelerates as planting is delayed in May, and getting corn planted by the end of April is a recognized goal in Illinois," Nafziger said. "The reality is though, that, on average, we only manage to get a little more than 40 percent of our corn planted by this target date and it's nearly the end of May before we reach 90 percent is planted.

"Several times in recent years, we have planted more than 50 percent of the corn crop in a 10-day period, and can plant even faster than that if all fields are ready at once," he said.

This means that weather and soil conditions, not equipment, are the major barriers to planting early.

"Despite our anxiousness to finish planting by the end of April, Illinois data over the past 20 years do not show that early planting alone boosts yields," Nafziger said. "In fact, there is no correlation between time to 50 percent planted and yield as measured by departure-from-trendline yield."

Does this mean that getting the crop planted early is not as important as a management goal? Nafziger said no.

"Planting before the end of April generally means that we've removed late planting (and the shortened season and greater chance of stress that follow late planting) as a potential barrier to high yields, thus maximizing yield potential. At the same time, we need to recognize that it's not 'game over' if we are forced by weather and soil conditions to plant into May, even past mid-May," he said.

Nafziger said that the fact that early planting does not necessarily lead to high yields does tell us that what happens after planting and through the rest of the season is more important than when we get the crop planted.

"This reminds us that it's important not to do anything that might compromise the plant's ability to take advantage of conditions later in the season that will determine actual yield. That certainly includes taking care not to plant into wet, compacted soils in our rush to plant early," he said.

Meanwhile, winter wheat conditions were rated as 1 percent very poor, 6 percent poor, 25 percent fair, 57 percent good and 11 percent excellent.

Pasture conditions were rated as 1 percent very poor, 4 percent poor, 27 percent fair, 49 percent good and 19 percent excellent.

Meanwhile, with corn planting off to such a slow start this year, few people have been worrying about getting soybeans planted, Nafziger said.

"Based on planting date responses we have seen in recent years, we consider the period from mid-April through the first week of May as providing the best chance at high yields," Nafziger said. "In general, the planting date response of soybean parallels that of corn on a percentage (not bushel) basis, but lags the response in corn by a week to 10 days."

According to trials run under relatively good conditions over the past three years, daily yield losses for soybean are about 0.3, 0.4, and 0.5 percent per day of planting delay for the first, second and third 10-day period in May. Total loss in potential is about 15 percent by the end of May, compared to about 25 percent loss, on average, for corn planted that late.

"It is clear that early planting only increases the yield potential in soybeans," Nafziger said. "It will do little to prevent yield loss if weather conditions, especially in August, result in crop stress. And, in a season like 2012, with very dry conditions through July and then adequate rain in August and September, planting early can actually decrease yield in some cases.

"This happens because extended stress through flowering can cause the soybean plant to lose its ability to respond favorably to improved conditions by setting and filling more pods. Conversely, a wet start to the season followed by dry weather will often mean more benefit from early planting, if that means producing and starting to fill more pods before stress begins," he added.

Beans' sensitivity to day length means that later-planted soybeans flower in fewer days than earlier-planted ones, so planting delays only modestly delay maturity, Nafziger explained.

"We can expect maturity to be a day later for every five days or so later we plant, but this varies widely from year to year," Nafziger said. "The response to day length also means that there's no reason to switch to earlier varieties with late planting; in fact, earlier-maturing varieties tend to have less ability to come back from periods of mid-season stress than do later-maturing ones. This is why we saw later varieties yield more than early ones in some of our trials in 2012."

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