Mid-South corn planting was slowed by wet fields and cold weather in March, but it’s still not too late for producers to plant and not suffer yield reductions, according to Extension corn specialists. Here’s more:
“We like to get started planting corn in Louisiana around March 1,” said Dan Fromme, Extension corn and cotton specialist for the state. “Up until last week (March 16), we were only about 20 percent planted. I think we’re somewhere around 40 percent to 50 percent planted now. But we have about a 90 percent chance of rain tomorrow (March 26).”
Typically, a significant percentage of the Louisiana corn crop is planted in March, but Fromme said studies indicate that Louisiana corn producers can plant as late as April 10 to April 15 “and still have a good corn crop. But a lot of producers are not comfortable with that and are getting ready to shift to cotton and soybeans.”
Corn planted later than April 15, “may be affected by high temperatures and less than optimum soil moisture during pollination,” Fromme said.
The state was staring at a 10 percent to 15 percent reduction in corn acres, which could grow to a 20 percent to 25 percent decline, with growers shifting to other crops.
Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension agronomist, wheat and feed grains, said corn planting started in the southeast corner of Arkansas “about two weeks ago on a very limited basis. There are a few in southeast Arkansas that are already through, there are some who are just starting and there are some that haven’t started.
“Everybody’s ready to go, fields are not all that wet, but it’s still pretty cool. Looking at the calendar, we’re almost at the end of March and still looking at soil temperatures in the 40s.”
Kelley says he had estimated a significant drop in corn acres in 2014, based on lower corn prices in December and January. “But since then the corn price has come up a little bit. Some farmers say they were able to price corn at $5 per bushel. That price has attracted a few more acres.”
Nonetheless, Kelley says more producers “will be going to soybeans, and some are going to plant more rice. I’m hearing mixed signals on cotton. At one point in time, there was going to be more cotton acres, now we’re hearing that there may be less. It depends on who you talk to.”
Corn planting has progressed quite well in the state, according to Erick Larson, Extension specialist, grain crops, Mississippi State University. He estimated that corn planting was about 25 percent to 30 percent complete as of March 26. He says Mississippi corn acreage will probably be down to between 500,000 acres and 600,000 acres this year, with many producers cutting back around 25 percent.
From March 13 to March 26, “there was quite a bit of planting progress, and there are some areas where there is a lot of planting going on right now,” Larson said. “That will continue until the next rainfall.”
Larson doesn’t think that corn planting is very far off a typical planting pace. “It’s rare that we have more than 50 percent of our corn planted by the end of March. It really doesn’t concern me about being behind at this point. What would make more of a difference than anything is to have enough favorable conditions where growers can finish out their plantings in April. Last year, we had hardly any opportunity to plant in April and the first two weeks in May. If we have dry weather and miss a few rains and conditions warm-up, we won’t be behind in any respect.”
Larson says research indicates that Mississippi corn producers “can sustain normal irrigated yields planting corn up until nearly May 1 up to Hwy. 82. That’s much different than what growers’ perceptions or comfort levels are for corn plantings in Mississippi. But it’s true even in drought the years like 2010 in 2011.”
Dryland corn, Larson says, “is going to be more responsive to early planting dates. If we can provide moisture to the crop, it really negates a lot of the planting date effect on corn.”
A handful of west Tennessee farmers have ventured into fields with corn planters, but most are staying away, said Angela McClure, Extension corn and soybean specialist, University of Tennessee. “Temperatures were down below 30 degrees again this morning (March 24), so it may be later in the week before we get started. We’ve had a very slow start.”
McClure said some farmers “were still trying to put out anhydrous, and the cold weather has slowed that down quite a bit too. Burn downs are still going out and farmers are trying to get ready.”
McClure believes that Tennessee corn acres will likely be down from last year because of lower prices. “Some of the retailers have been talking about being down as much as 25 percent or higher on seed sales for corn. A lot of that will go back to soybeans and a few farmers will probably plant a little more cotton.”
McClure said lower nitrogen prices could help corn profits, “but seed prices didn’t go down. So farmers who are real close on their profit margins can’t really pencil corn out. Many are putting corn on their better ground, or under irrigation, where there are more likely to make a decent yield and hopefully some money.”