Corn planting flies ahead

BY LI DAI | MAY 08, 2015 5:00 AM

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While Iowa farmers are making good progress on crops this year, some area farmers are worried that crop prices could sink.

According to the crop-progress report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than one-half of Iowa’s corn acreage was planted last week, the largest percentage planted during this week in more than 20 years.

The amount of Iowa corn planted was at 68 percent compared with just 14 percent last week. The soybeans planted was at 11 percent compared with 0 percent last week.

Both of those numbers are higher than both last year’s percentage planted at this time, and they beat the five-year averages.

Mark Licht, crop-systems agronomist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, said corn planting is well underway with many farmers fully planted.

“Generally speaking, the planting progress has been good,” he said. “Cool weather early in April initially led to a slow start to corn planting. But as the weather improved, soil conditions improved, and planting took off at a feverish pace.”

The report states that soil moisture levels are adequate or at a surplus in around 85 percent of fields.

One local farmer said the rain has really helped the planting of corn progress quickly.

“We have received 4 inches of rain,” Tiffin area farmer Steve Swenka said. “The soil is very saturated, and we have some minor ponding in some of our fields. Prior to Sunday evening, conditions were near ideal.”

Russell Meade, the Johnson County Farm Bureau board president and an Iowa corn farmer, said the season has been a good springboard.   

“We are off to a very good start,” he said. “We had a little later spring with cold weather hanging on through much of April delaying planting a little, but we had a good stretch of weather last week, and we were able to get all of our corn planted with fertilizer and herbicides applied.”

Meade said that overall, it has been a good start for planting but farmers are still worried about crop prices.

“Farmers’ moods, I would say, are down, because prices for corn and soybeans are down from the historic high prices we have seen the last few years,” Meade said. “Some farmers fear they will only break even this year due to high rent and production costs.”

Chad Hart, an ISU associate professor of economics, said crop prices are lower because the crop markets expect large harvests this year, following the record harvests last year.

“While crop demand has been good, supplies are just so large that demand has been easily met, and more crop is being held in storage,” he said.

Hart said corn prices dipped slightly on the early planting, while soybean prices were unaffected by the news in the crop report.

“From a price perspective, lower prices have made this year tougher for farmers,” he said. “From a production perspective, it is too early to tell.  In most cases, the crop was just planted within the last couple of weeks.”

While dipping prices may hurt farmers’ wallets, it does lead to interesting innovation in farming techniques.

“At the same time, with lower prices, farmers will be more careful in their spending, equipment purchases are down, but investment in technology will continue because technology has helped farmers more efficiently use seed, fertilizer, and chemicals,” Meade said.

While the rain has helped propel corn planting at much higher rates than expected, now, the moisture could pose a problem for farmers.

Swenka said right now, field work is at a standstill, the fields are saturated, and it will take several days to dry out after it stops raining.

He said this wet weather could have an effect on yields.

“Luckily, we were able to get a lot of things done early,” he said. “Things were progressing really well, but now this extreme wet weather has halted progress.”

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