The second-wettest April in the 136 years that state weather records have been kept has delayed corn planting in Iowa this spring. But state officials emphasize that two weeks of prime time remain and farmers can get corn into the ground quickly—once the weather allows.
As of Sunday April 27, only 3% of the state's intended corn acres had been planted, according to Iowa Ag Statistics Service, the USDA agency that issues the weekly crop and weather survey report. A year ago at this time, 12% of Iowa's corn acres had been planted. The state's average corn planting pace for this date is 33%, based on the 5-year average of years 2003 through 2007.
Research shows the optimal planting dates for corn run from about April 20 through May 10 in Iowa, says Roger Elmore, Iowa State University Extension corn agronomist. So, farmers still have time to get corn planted before yields start to suffer, he notes.
Still not too late for corn
Last year also had a wet spring, but once the weather allowed them into the fields Iowa farmers planted about 1.4 million acres of corn per day. "At that rate, farmers can plant the state's corn crop in 10 days," says Elmore.
The weekly survey by Iowa Ag Statistics, released April 28, shows farmers in western Iowa have about 5% to 10% of their 2008 corn crop planted so far. In eastern Iowa, where it's been even wetter, hardly any fieldwork has been done.
Flooding has made problems worse in northeast Iowa. Field work is at least three weeks behind normal in an area stretching from Winnebago County in north central Iowa to Black Hawk County in northeast Iowa, says George Cummins, ISU Extension field agronomist at Charles City. "Virtually no planting has been done in my 11-county area," he says. "Farmers are getting frustrated."
Second-wettest April on record
Last week Iowa had 1.91 inches of precipitation, as a statewide average. That was through Sunday April 27 and it pushed this month's total to the second-rainiest April since statewide statistics were first kept 136 years ago, says Harry Hillaker, state climatologist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Normal precipitation for the week is 0.84 inch.
April's preliminary total of 5.83 inches of precipitation trail's only 1999, when Iowa had 6.25 inches in April.
Other major corn states also are having problems with delayed planting this year, according to the USDA weekly survey issued April 28. Illinois farmers have 6% of their corn planted, compared to the previous 5-year average of 55%. Indiana has 11% of its corn planted, compared to a 5-year average of 30%. Nebraska has 9% of its corn acres planted. Its 5-year average is 21%.
No need to switch hybrid maturities
Corn planting questions, delayed herbicide applications and problems with winterkilled alfalfa stands were discussed on the weekly telephone conference of ISU Extension field agronomists across the state on April 28. That telephone conference is held by ISU crop specialists every Monday.
Should farmers be concerned about changing corn hybrids to earlier maturities? ISU's Roger Elmore says "No." He says research shows Iowa farmers don't have to worry about that until the latter part of May.
While across the state there has been a general lack of progress in planting this spring, pockets of western and northwest Iowa have been able to get corn into the ground.
In the northwest corner of Iowa, ISU Extension field agronomist Joel DeJong, based at LeMars, saw some corn planting get started on April 21. "There was quite a bit of activity in the fields for the next three days, but on the afternoon of April 24 it started raining and turning to snow. That put a stop to planting, but we are started."