April 29, 2013 / 9:26 PM / 6 years ago

U.S. corn planting pace ties slowest on record

CHICAGO, April 29 (Reuters) - Rain around the U.S. Midwest kept farmers out of fields last week matching the slowest corn planting pace ever, government data released on Monday showed.

The weather also took a toll on the developing winter wheat crop, which deteriorated to its worst condition for this time of year in 17 years.

The U.S. Agriculture Department said corn planting, as of April 28, was 5 percent complete, just 1 percentage point ahead of where farmers were a week ago. The pace was the slowest since 1984, when farmers also had completed just 5 percent of their corn planting.

Analysts had predicted corn planting to be 9 percent finished, according to the average of 13 estimates in a Reuters poll that ranged from 7 to 11 percent.

Prior to USDA’s planting report, corn traders on Monday had expected a slow planting place and bid Chicago corn futures 6 percent higher for their biggest gain since July.

In Iowa, the top U.S. corn producing state, planting was just 2 percent complete. Farmers in Illinois and Indiana, two other major producers, had finished just 1 percent of their corn seeding.

“Wet fields are the topic for most farmers across the state,” the Illinois field office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said in a report. “The heavy rains from the week before combined with the cooler-than-normal temperatures, have many fields still too wet. There has been no significant planting done yet.”

The five-year U.S. average for the end of April is 31 percent, while a year ago, farmers had finished 49 percent of their corn planting. Corn planting in 2012 was completed in record time but the final crop came in well below expectations due to the drought that hit the Midwest during the summer.

“Our main concern is not that we didn’t get most of our crop planted by the end of April, it’s just we’re not quite sure when we’re going to start,” said Emerson Nafziger, agronomist at the University of Illinois.

In 1984, the last time planting was as slow as it is now, the sluggish ace had little impact on harvest, with final corn yields averaging 32 percent better than the previous year.

Farmers typically aim to have the bulk of their crop seeded by the middle of May to ensure that the corn has enough time to mature so it can withstand the heat of the Midwest summer.

USDA rated the winter wheat crop 33 percent good to excellent, the lowest for this time of year since 1996, when the crop also was rated 33 percent good to excellent. A week ago, U.S. winter wheat was 35 percent good to excellent and was rated 64 percent good to excellent a year ago.

In Kansas, the largest producer of hard red winter wheat, good-to-excellent ratings fell 3 percentage points to 27 percent.

The Wheat Quality Council’s annual tour of the state starts on Tuesday and scouts will get a close look at the damage caused by drought and a cold snap in April.

In the Midwest, farmers will likely push planting forward during the first half of the week before more rain drives them from the fields again. Forecasts call for rain amounts of 0.5 to 1.0 inch across the region.

Wet fields and cold weather also delayed farmers in the northern U.S. Plains trying to seed spring wheat. USDA said spring wheat planting was just 12 percent complete compared to the five-year average of 37 percent.

USDA will provide its first update on soybean planting in its May 6 crop progress report. (Additional reporting by Christine Stebbins; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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