Bring On Those April Showers!

The arrival of spring weather is something everyone in the Midwest awaits, especially farmers.  Now that we’ve turned our calendars to April, it seems that folks are more eager than ever for warmer temperatures – and spring rainfall.

Farmers with whom I’ve visited recently are anxious for the spring planting season to begin, but they’re also being realistic.  It’s going to be a few weeks before field work begins.  We really need those soil temperatures to warm up before any seed goes into the ground.  It would also be great if we’d receive some rainfall.  The snowmelt will help provide moisture at planting time, but we still have a moisture deficit.

In a recent blog post, April Hemmes said her farm in southern Franklin County received a total of 5 inches of rain between May and October 2012.  Normal annual rainfall is 23 inches, which means fields here in North Central Iowa are suffering from a moisture shortfall.  The U.S. Drought Monitor shows we’re not alone.  Conditions through many areas across the Upper Midwest range from severe to extreme drought.  Many western areas are suffering from an exceptional drought.  Bring on those April showers!

A moist, warm seed bed really help seeds germinate since the soil serves as a blanket for the seeds.  We need soil temperatures to warm up by about 20 degrees or so.  Current soil temperatures are averaging in the mid-30s, and we need those temps to be 50 to 55 degrees at corn planting time.

Even when the soil temperatures warm, farmers must be certain that warmer air temperatures are in the forecast.  Warmer air temperatures are especially critical to protect the seedlings.  If the air temperature hits 20 degrees Fahrenheit or less after germination, the young seedling can be killed with the growing point of the plant right at emergence.

The good news is that time is on our side.  Research by Iowa State University shows the optimal planting date for corn is between April 12 and May 8, depending on the region where you farm.  A lot of seed can go in the ground just in two or three good days, so there’s no need for farmers to sacrifice yield by rushing Mother Nature.

There are 3 important factors farmers should take into consideration before planting this spring:

  1. Avoid soil compaction.  Avoid planting in cold, wet soils.
  2. Monitor soil temperature.  It’s best to plant when soil temperatures are 50 degrees and those temperatures can be sustained.
  3. Be aware of crop insurance deadlines.  Check your policy and talk to your crop insurance agent to make sure you understand the possible consequences before planting that early.  Replants may not be covered.  Plus, the seed in farmers’ sheds now is most likely their first choice. If farmers have to replant, they may be planting their third or fourth choice for seed corn as supplies are tight across the industry.