April 5, 2013 / 9:31 PM / 6 years ago

Cool spring in U.S. Midwest keeps corn planters parked

By Michael Hirtzer
    CHICAGO, April 5 (Reuters) - A cool spring in the U.S.
Midwest has farmers antsy for soils to warm up before rolling
their big corn planters across fields to seed what is expected
to be the largest area of the country's biggest crop since 1936.
    This week marks the first official days farmers can begin
planting corn in many spots across the upper Midwest, according
to crop insurance policies that cover costs if they have to
replant in the event of a flood or killing frost.
    Farmers are hoping for a better season than 2012 when their
yields were the smallest in 17 years due to the worst drought
since the Dust Bowl years. 
    "We're getting anxious. Things aren't quite where they need
to be soil-temperature-wise, so we are trying to be as patient
as we can," said Cory Ritter, who farms 2,000 acres with his
father in central Illinois, not far from the Decatur
headquarters of agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co
    Soil temperatures were in the 40s degrees Fahrenheit (4
degrees Celsius) in Illinois this week, below the 50 degrees
necessary for the seeds to germinate.    
    March was one of the coldest on record for the No. 2 grain
state of Illinois, a big contrast from a year ago when highs
were in the 80s as far north as Chicago and Minneapolis,
promoting a record-fast start to the U.S. planting season.
    "We've been ready to go since March 1. We've had the planter
and field cultivator ready," said Maria Cox, who farms 3,000
acres with her father, Ethan, in White Hall, in the southwest
part of the state near the Missouri border.
    The Cox farm last year planted corn the earliest in their
farm's history, sowing acres in mid-March. The early-planted
corn pollinated before the blistering drought conditions took
effect in late-June and yielded 50 bushels per acre more at
harvest than corn planted in April, she said.
    This season's cool spring means a more traditional start to
the planting season and likely a later harvest, preventing
farmers from cashing in on late-summer corn premiums. Those
premiums are likely to be hefty amid the tightest corn supplies
in nine years.
    "We are not going to be harvesting in the middle of August.
We sold some grain for early-September delivery and if we can't
deliver, we will have to roll the contract until the next
month," Cox said.

    A few planters were starting to roll on Friday in southern
Illinois and Missouri but rains are forecast across the Corn
Belt from Sunday through Thursday, likely keeping farmers out of
the fields. 
    Soil temperatures remain below 50 degrees F across Iowa,
keeping farmers side lined.
    Illinois and top grower Iowa are forecast to seed nearly 30
percent of the 97.3 million corn acres this year, according to
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
    Texas and Louisiana farmers have already been planting corn
over the past few weeks. USDA reported on Monday that Texas had
seeded 54 percent of their corn crop and Louisiana farmers were
nearly done, with 95 percent in the ground as of Sunday. Both
are ahead of schedule due to dry weather, crop specialists said.
    The mid-South is struggling to get their crop in.
    "The weather is supposed to warm up but also get extremely
wet. That may sideline us ahead of getting a lot of mid-April
planting done," said Mike Zuzolo, president of Global Commodity
Analytics, a farm advisor in Lafayette, Indiana.
    "Clients in Tennessee and in the Missouri 'boot heel' that I
talk to are already starting to talk about pushing their corn
acres into beans, especially if they get 3 inches of rain,"
Zuzolo said. "It will be hard for their low-level ground to dry
out in time to get the corn in on time, and not miss the
super-hot pollination window that they go through down there."
    The good news is all the rains are replenishing soil
moisture after last year's historic drought.
    "I don't think very many people are nervous yet. The best
days to plant are later than this anyway," said Emerson
Nafziger, an extension agronomist at the University of Illinois.
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