Mississippi farmers finished planting their estimated 630,000 acres of corn on time, but the continuing effects of rain, standing water and cool soil temperatures have slowed the crop’s development in many areas of the state.
Flooding and saturated soil brought on by excessive rain kept growers out of fields until the end of the optimum planting window for corn, which is May 1. Growers who started planting in March found that cooler temperatures hampered germination in some fields and stunted growth of plants that already had broken ground.
“What we need are some sunny, warm days that will allow soil to dry,” said Erick Larson, grains crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Corn can only tolerate anaerobic conditions caused by excessively saturated soil for a short period of time. Dry weather would allow plants to develop the deep root systems they will need for nutrient and water uptake.”
Some growers had to replant. Wet soils also substantially restricted their opportunities to apply necessary fertilizer for plant growth and herbicides for weeds. Continuing rain caused flooding, which saturated soil and stunted plant and root development.
“The situation with the water and the soil has generated considerable farmer concern about nitrogen fertilizer loss,” said Extension soils agronomist Larry Oldham. “Several factors affecting nitrogen loss, which can include the timing of application, the source of nitrogen and the quantity applied, depend upon the duration of saturated soil conditions and soil temperatures.”
Some growers had to rethink their management strategies and chemical application techniques when faced with this situation. Wet soils prohibited tractors and spray rigs from applying fertilizer and herbicides for most of this spring. Much of the state’s crop is now too tall for these ground rigs to pass through fields and perform these operations.
“Some growers had to hire aerial applicators to apply herbicides and fertilizer because their fields were too wet for ground rigs,” Larson said. “These delays also limited the herbicide options growers had for weed control because of plant height or other labeling restrictions.”
Troublesome weather also has limited the crop’s yield potential, but growers are not ready to surrender just yet. If rain slacks off and floodwaters recede, growers may be able to produce a respectable crop.
The misery felt by Mississippi growers during the planting season is shared by their counterparts in the Corn Belt. By the last week in May, Midwestern farmers had only 20 percent of their corn planted because of wet weather in that area of the country. Normally , they would have almost 90 percent of the crop in the ground. Other eastern Corn Belt states, such as Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, are also behind their normal planting pace for corn.
This situation has caused corn futures prices to rise because marketers are speculating that yields might be down.
“Production problems in the Corn Belt tend to be positive for futures prices because those markets are based upon expectations,” said Extension agricultural economist John Anderson. “December corn futures at the end of April were $4 a bushel, and they have risen to $4.45 a bushel, which is a 10 percent increase in a short period of time.”
A factor that could affect production costs is the price volatility of the fuel market. The one input that could have a significant effect on growers for the rest of the season is the price of fuel, which could change quickly.
Most growers already have purchased chemicals, fertilizer and other inputs, so farmers are less concerned about current changes in the prices of those inputs.
“Fuel prices aren’t what they were at this time a year ago, but there is always the potential for these prices to rise,” Anderson said. “Fuel is used for irrigation pumps, spray rigs and farm implements, and farmers must run that equipment during the whole production season.”