A survey of farmers across Iowa on May 2-3 shows many are going ahead and planting the high spots just to get corn in the ground. They'll come back later on, after soils in the "skipped" areas are dry enough to plant, to finish the job. There are still a lot of wet fields and low areas of fields they can't plant yet.
"We've received 11 inches so far this spring in north central Iowa," says Lyle Spencer of Goldfield. "That's a bit much. I have 90% of my corn planted, thanks to what my father taught me a long time ago. He had a saying that 'corn won't grow in the sack' so we'd plant our higher ground first. That way we'd get a greater percentage of our total acreage planted in good time."
In central Iowa, "We finally got some corn planted this past week," says farmer Greg Rhinehart, near Boone. "It's on our high ground. There many places where we can't work ground or can't plant yet as it's too wet. So we're just hitting the high fields. Maybe we'll miss a rain or two and be able to get more planted."
Western Iowa making most progress
While planting this spring has been at a snail's pace compared to normal, some corn was planted this past week.
Steve Johnson, ISU Extension farm management specialist in central Iowa surveyed ISU crop specialists across Iowa. "As of May 2 farmers are planting the high ground in central Iowa," he says. "But we see a lot of planting progress along the Missouri River watershed in western Iowa. Going north of Omaha north towards Sioux City, upwards of a third to half of the corn is already planted."
Of course, that's a limited area compared to the entire state, which this spring is lagging way behind normal planting progress. In eastern Iowa and in low-lying areas all over Iowa, there's a lot of corn yet to plant. "Farmers are anxious about how much they have to plant," says Johnson. "But ISU research shows we've got time. The worst thing you could do is try to mud the corn crop in this spring."
Trade foresees below-trend yield
Until mid-May or so, about 99% of the relative yield potential is still there for corn planted in central Iowa, says Johnson. Be aware of where you have drainage, terraces, tile and waterways. The first place to plant corn is on your best ground, your well-drained soils, he advises.
The grain trade is saying by now the U.S. could be 6 or 7 bushels per acre below trend line on corn yields in 2008, due to this spring's delayed corn planting. "The trade can interpret this year's wet spring and planting delays however they want," says Johnson. "But right now I'm as concerned about the acres as I am about yield. How many acres get planted to corn this year is critical. It'll be difficult to get to the 86 million planted acres of corn now in the U.S.—because of this rain delayed start. We'll likely see a switch to more soybeans on a number of farms."
When will a switch occur? In past years when there were wet springs in Iowa, some farmers went ahead and put a corn crop into the ground in late May or on June 1 and they and still wound up with a pretty good crop—even when planting normal maturity corn varieties for their location. "This spring, the calendar has already flipped to early May but I think farmers will continue to be patient," says Johnson. "They'll go ahead and plant their full season hybrids and try to get the corn planted by May 15 to 20—if not before if soil conditions allow. We have to be patient and wait for good soil conditions for planting."
Decisions cushioned by crop insurance
A lot of the decisions that are being made by farmers at planting time this spring are being cushioned by the crop insurance decisions they made seven weeks ago. For example, this is the first year farmers have the Biotech Yield Endorsement (BYE) option on crop insurance. If you signed up for BYE, how does that work once you get the crop in the ground?
"Number one, you'd better be keeping good records of where you planted the biotech seed because by June 30 your seed dealer is going to have to sign off and you'll have to also sign off on a statement saying that you know where you planted the seed," says Johnson. "You have to manage by unit. And unit is a crop insurance term. The unit could be a field or it could be a farm, or it could be all of your farming operation together in one unit."
So, good recordkeeping of where you plant the corn that has the biotech traits is critical in 2008 if you're going to apply for the premium discount for BYE on your crop insurance. The deadline to apply for that is June 30.
June 30 is crop insurance date
Besides being an important crop insurance date, June 30 is also when USDA's 2008 Planted Acreage Report will be released. That's the first official government survey estimate of the amount of acreage planted to corn and soybeans in 2008.
That's the same day FSA 578, a form farmers fill out to report planted acreage, is due at FSA offices. "Also, if you're applying for the Biotech Yield Endorsement for crop insurance, keep in mind that it's due the same day, June 30. Again, be sure you keep good records if you're going to apply for the BYE," says Johnson.
What is Johnson advising farmers to do now—in terms of crop marketing plans and crop insurance management? "Focus on what you can control," he says. "You can't control the weather. You can't control market prices. Focus on things such as what you're going to plant and where you're going to plant it. Also, what prices are you willing to accept? Do you want to commit these bushels to delivery? Do you just want to use futures and options to manage the price?"
Focus on important decisions
Most important is to focus on the decision you made seven weeks ago for crop insurance, says Johnson. "Because, if you use the revenue tools such CRC and RA, like 80% of the insured acres in Iowa do, you have built into that coverage $5.40 corn and $13.36 soybeans."
Those are spring-based prices. You also have a replant guarantee which is worth $40 an acre this year. And you have delayed planting. "We are a long ways away from when the delayed planting date kicks in for insurance purposes. That's May 31 for corn and June 15 for soybeans," he says.
Built into CRC, RA and the traditional APH crop insurance product, is prevented planting. Those types of insurance were all tied into high crop prices. "So you need to think about the crop insurance you have," adds Johnson. "If you have any concern about replanting or delayed planting, talk to your insurance agent before you replant. It's probably worth about $40 an acre in a year like 2008."