The report released on March 30 indicates that corn planting intentions for 2012 are higher than ever in Iowa and if they are realized, "we'll have the most corn ever planted here, 14. 6 million acres," notes Roger Elmore, Iowa State University Extension corn agronomist. "And for the U.S., corn plantings are projected to be 95.864 million acres in 2012. If realized, this would be the most corn the U.S. has planted since 1937."
Although the U.S. numbers can shift by up to a 15% overestimate – as they did in the drought year of 1983, they typically range within 5% of the final estimates (see the accompanying graph). The 10-year average is less than 1%. "Thus, the odds favor the likelihood that we will see a large corn acre this year," says Elmore.
Stay-tuned as corn growers adjust to planting conditions and markets as we progress into the planting season. See the ICM news for more information on the 'Best corn planting dates for Iowa.'
With a record warm early spring this year, the main question ISU Extension field agronomists are getting from farmers is: Do I really have to wait until mid-April to plant corn? There are a few corn fields in southeast Iowa that were planted in mid-March to late March and some of them have already emerged. "That could turn out to be a good decision but we'll have to wait and see," says Jim Fawcett, ISU agronomist based at Iowa City. "Remember, it was just two years ago that we had a freeze on May 9. Any corn that was planted in March would likely need to be replanted if we have another freeze in mid-May this year."
Wait for crop insurance date to plant corn? Also, will insects be bad in 2012?
Most of the corn that got frozen two years ago still had the growing point below ground, so it did regrow. But some farmers found that their corn didn't completely recover from that stress and the yields were reduced. Fawcett thinks it's a good idea to wait at least until the April 11 crop insurance date and then see what the soil temperature and forecast is before planting corn.
There is concern that the mild winter may result in more insect problems this spring. The insects to be most concerned about are those that over-winter as adults, since they are more vulnerable to winter temperatures. This would be insects such as bean leaf beetles, corn flea beetles and alfalfa weevils. Before this past winter we had several colder than normal winters, which may have helped reduce problems with these insects. Hopefully it will take more than one mild winter for populations to rebound. According to the accumulated growing degree days, it is already time to start scouting for alfalfa weevils—which is over a month earlier than normal."
Still quite dry in a large part of Iowa, especially northwest and north central
Fall soil moisture samples taken last November in northwest Iowa indicated this area of the state is at a higher risk of running short of reserve soil moisture for the 2012 crop than this area has been in a very long time. Most of the sites averaged less than 4 inches of plant available water in the top 5 feet of soil last November, well below the field capacity of nearly 11 inches. It's noteworthy that 11 inches or field capacity was the amount of soil moisture that area of the state had when it started the 2011 crop season. So it's a lot drier going into the 2012 crop season.
"We will pull some soil samples in mid-April to see what kind of a moisture contribution we received this past winter," says Joel DeJong, ISU Extension field agronomist at Le Mars in northwest Iowa. He says he doesn't remember ever having a fall like the one in 2011, with absolutely no rain in such a wide area. "I'm glad we are getting some rain this spring," he says. "If we have timely rainfall during 2012, that could limit yield losses from this factor of having such dry subsoil moisture reserves in the top 5 feet of soil going into planting time."He is cautioning farmers to not begin planting corn until after the crop insurance date of April 11. "Remember, we are in northern Iowa and with that comes additional risk of cold weather in April," says DeJong. "This warm spring is very unusual, and you run the risk of getting 'spring fever.' Farmers planted about three-fourths of the corn crop in about 5 days last year. With these dry soils, if we go get significant rainfall, it's going to soak in, so getting back into the field might be easier this year too. The risk of cold soils after planter and the frost risk to emerged corn plants in northwest Iowa during April doesn't make planting too soon seem like a risk that's worth taking. We have significant planting capacity and still have time available to get the crop in the ground."