CHICAGO Many U.S. farmers are waiting for crop insurance coverage to kick in before getting too aggressive in planting corn early, resisting the temptation presented by record warm temperatures this spring, a top agronomist said on Wednesday.
"Monday's numbers from USDA certainly showed 'some' early planting but the dam has not broken yet. The short-term weather forecast is favorable in terms of no expected heavy rains, but a cool off in temps may dampen some spirits," Robert Nielsen, a state extension corn specialist with Purdue University in Indiana, told Thomson Reuters online ags forum. "Most have been impatiently waiting for the April 6 insurance date before getting too serious about planting corn," he added. While Indiana farmers had seeded 1 percent of their corn as of Sunday, nationwide farmers had planted 3 percent, matching the earliest start on record since 1999. Some farmers took advantage of summer-like temperatures in March, brushing off crop insurance dates which do not kick in until the first or second week of April -- betting on an early harvest so they can meet the world's demand for corn amid a tight U.S. supply left from the 2011 harvest.
Farmers aim to get their corn planted by mid-May as yields tend to drop off after then. But heavy spring rains and flooding have put them behind in recent years.
"Risks to early planting include uneven stand establishment if soil moisture and temperature are not favorable, damage from a severe frost or freeze event once the plants have elevated above the soil surface," said Nielsen referring to the V5 growth stage, or the emergence of the plant's fifth leaf, around two to three weeks after planting.
Temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (near 0 Celsius) can be "lethal" to newly emerged corn, he added. Nielsen said the warm winter and spring also raised the risk of more pests, citing the chance of a higher infestation of cutworms and flea beetles which carry Stewarts wilt disease. Both can hurt corn yields. "Early application of pre-plant residual herbicides may not give long enough control of weeds and so may result in the need for post-emergence herbicides," Nielsen said. "Given the continued spate of severe weather events already this year, one can only wonder what will happen the remainder of the year," he said.
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(Reporting By Christine Stebbins; Editing by David Gregorio)