Fieldwork is off to a slow start in Iowa and much of the Midwest with more cool, wet weather this week. There hasn't been much done yet. Some anhydrous ammonia was applied in Fremont County in Iowa's southwest corner last week.
In the opposite corner of the state, Don Elsbernd farms in Allamakee County in far northeast Iowa. On April 4 he was asked if frost was out of the ground yet. "It's been a long, hard winter. We still have some snowbanks in the ditches and still have some frost in the ground. It will be a little while before we can get machinery going in the fields," says Elsbernd.
USDA's planting intentions survey released March 31 indicates Iowa farmers will plant 1.25 million acres more soybeans in 2008 and 1 million fewer acres of corn. That's a 14.6% increase for beans and a 7% decrease for corn. Nationally, the survey projects soybean acreage to be up 18% while corn acreage is projected to decrease 8% from 2007. Since that report was released, corn prices have risen to $6 per bushel. Elsbernd thinks some farmers may now be looking for a few additional fields where corn can be planted rather than beans.
Plant corn or beans on uncommitted acres?
Even with the projected decrease indicated in the survey, corn acreage in 2008 will still remain at historically high levels as the corn price outlook remains strong, due in part to the continued expansion in ethanol production.
Iowa State University Extension agronomists say April 20 to May 10 is the ideal time to plant corn in Iowa in terms of capturing yield potential. If you have a lot of corn acres to plant, you can consider starting in mid-April if soil conditions allow.
"Keep in mind that spring weather will be the final judge on how many acres of corn and soybeans Iowa farmers will plant this year," points out Palle Pedersen, ISU Extension soybean agronomist. If the wet weather continues and corn planting is delayed for too long this spring, some of the "swing" acres may end up being planted to beans.
Pedersen says the high input costs and associated risk for growing corn are getting farmers to think twice when making their planting decisions. Also, farmers who switched to planting corn following corn last year learned a valuable lesson. "Farmers have realized when you are in a monoculture planting corn on corn, it is higher risk and the yields aren't always there," he adds.
"Being in a rotation with soybeans is really going to help on the profitability of the return you get from the crop. And of course it also helps that soybeans can be sold at $12 to $13 per bushel," notes Pedersen. "There is an extremely strong demand for soy products and soy meal from both Asia and Europe. Soybean is a wonderful crop to rotate with corn."
Don't work soils that are too wet
With the cold, wet start this spring farmers should keep in mind that 2008 likely isn't going to be the perfect planting season. Those who try to till or plant in soils that are too wet will risk compaction, smearing, creating clods, uneven emergence and lower yields, says ISU Extension ag engineer Mark Hanna.
This year would be a good one to limit the amount of spring tillage you do. How do you judge whether a field is ready for tillage? Hanna recommends you take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the soil doesn't spring back, but stays in a ball like putty, then the soil is plastic and too wet for field work. Plastic soils don't work up well with tillage and they don't make good seedbeds.
"However, if the wet weather continues this spring and soil conditions remain challenging, farmers may eventually have to decide whether the risk of lower yields from later planting of corn will outweigh the risks from operating equipment in less-than-ideal soil conditions," he says.