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Archive for April, 2013

April 30, 2013

By: Nate Birt, Farm Journal Social Media and News Editor

With farms in many Corn Belt states still largely unplanted as May 1 approaches, it’s understandable that growers are concerned about future corn yields, says Emerson Nafziger, crop sciences professor at the University of Illinois. At the same time, the best way to optimize yields now is to be ready to get into the fields once they’ve dried out enough.

“It’s still pretty clear that yield losses don’t take a large, sudden drop just because the calendar turns form April to May before we finish planting,” Nafziger says. In general, yield losses accelerate as planting is delayed, and research shows that we can expect about 15% lower yields by May 20 and about 25% loss by June 1.

“It’s not a cliff, it’s a fairly gradual slope,” Nafziger says, referring to yield potential losses as planting gets pushed back. “In our research, we’ve found that yield losses are about 0.5%, 0.7%, and 0.9% per day of delay for the first, second, and third 10-day periods in May. With a little loss in yield for delays from April into May, our data will project yield losses of about 8%, 15%, and 24% for planting done on May 10, May 20 and May 30.”

Planting date data are notoriously variable, though, with some years showing little loss for late May planting and others showing large losses. This only emphasizes the fact that actual loss from late planting is tied to conditions during the rest of the season more than to planting date, though late planting can set the crop up to experience less favorable growing conditions.

What farmers are seeing this year isn’t unusual: On average, over the last 20 years, Illinois farmers have not been 50% planted by the first of May, Nafziger says. And even when Illinois farmers do get above that threshold—for example, more than 80% were planted by May 1, 2012—conditions during the growing season often have a far greater impact on yield than planting date.

At this point, farmers don’t need to worry about changing plant populations, he says. Nor should they be concerned that a lot of nitrogen applied in the fall or earlier this spring has been lost. In general, temperatures haven’t been consistently high enough to produce rapid conversion of nitrogen to nitrate; the greatest risk of that happening is normally in June, when soils are warm and nitrates are lost during heavy rains.

It’s also still a good idea to plant corn before soybeans, Nafziger says, because yield losses will generally be larger for the former crop rather than the latter as planting gets pushed back.

While farmers might be tempted to roll out the planters on the heels of ponding in fields, it’s best to just wait for several good drying days before proceeding, Nafziger says. That’s because planting when it’s too muddy can result in compaction that damages root growth.

Other Extension experts from states such as Wisconsin and Kansas agree that planting date is just one factor among many that determines corn yield. Here are excerpts from several reports about corn planting date and yield. Click the title of the report to read the full analysis from each Extension service.

The Best Corn Planting Dates Are Yet To Come 

Source: University of Wisconsin, 2013 “The date when maximum yield occurs varies from April 10 to May 3. We were still within 95% of the maximum until April 29, 2005 and May 19, 2011.”

The Planting Date Conundrum for Corn

Source: Purdue University, 2013 “Even though one can statistically define a mathematical relationship between departure from trend yield and planting progress by April 30 or May 15, the relationship only accounts for 22 to 24% of the variability in yield trend departures from year to year.”

Corn Planting Guide 

Source: Iowa State University, 2001 “A useful method for estimating a start date for corn planting is to add up the number of days expected to plant all acres plus the number of days of anticipated weather, mechanical, and personal delays, and back up that many days from May 10.”

Corn Production Handbook 

Source: Kansas State University, 1994 “Many producers use soil temperature to determine planting time. Planting when the soil temperature reaches 55°F at a 2-inch depth appears to be an excellent guide.”

Illinois Agronomy Handbook: Corn

Source: University of Illinois “Yield losses continue to accelerate as planting is delayed into June, and expected yields reach 50% of early planted yields by about June 20 to 25.”

By: Clint Muhlenkamp

“Moooo-ve out alfalfa growers!” Is the phrase, our herds might be saying.

This is because spring has brought on new alfalfa growth and the herds are hungry for some fresh cuttings.  Our cows appear to be ready for the new spring, but the real question is – are we?

After recently scouting some fields with Croplan’s alfalfa and forage specialist, Mike Laird, one key issue has come to my attention.

Due to all of the freezing and thawing this winter, the first thing I’ve been noticing is the amount of heaving in the alfalfa fields (demonstrated in the photo to the right). As one can see, these particular roots would appear alive and well from a roadside view.  But since the crowns have been exposed, these plants will not likely be back for the second cutting.  So it is important that we evaluate our stands.

“If the heaving is severe enough, you’ll want to evaluate your feed situation.” Laird says.  “You could do one of two things.  You could tear the field up and rotate to corn or take the first cutting and inter-seed with a sorghum sudan – depending on your feed needs.”

Laird also said, “You could choose to leave it be and take the yield loss, but that wouldn’t be the most efficient way of using your ground and you could potentially have a feed shortage.”

So before we assume everything is fine and dandy in our fields, check; or ask a friendly Mercer Landmark team member to check – our cows will be glad we did!

Note:  Now is the time to be scouting for alfalfa weevil.


I would like to thank Allen Douglass and FC Stone for passing this interesting information on today.

Chinese ‘bird flu’ outbreak is worse – much worse than is being discussed today.  At least 17 have died, and there is human to human transmission and mutation of the strain already.  Chinese poultry consumption dropping sharply.

We have gone from record low water levels on the Mississippi River around Christmas to flooding now threatening to shut barge traffic!

Town of London Mills, IL in Fulton County evacuated late 4/18 due to a levee breech.

Still too cold to plant corn in the northern half of Illinois and all of Iowa– yikes!

Past 7 days of precipitation – heavy rains overnight in IL / IN not represented in this map…

I am sure I don’t have to tell any of you that selling out of the field has paid off the last few years. “Last year, nobody sold anything, then we got a drought and the price of corn went up $3 in five or six weeks,” says Jerry Gulke, president of the Gulke Group. “If anybody had cash contracting, they wish they hadn’t done that.”

A recent Farm Journal Pulse asked: How much of your 2013 corn production is sold or priced?

Here are the results:
2013 Corn Production sold or priced

        None: 53%

        1-25%: 24%

        26-50%: 11%

        51-75%: 4%

        76-99%: 3%

        100%: 4%

Farm Journal asked the same question at this time last year. Here are those results:
2012 Corn Production sold or priced

       None: 45%

       1-25%: 30%

       26-50%: 14%

       51-75%: 7%

       76-99%: 2%

       100%: 2%
“In all honesty, farmers have been right to not forward sell much of their crop,” Gulke says. “If you don’t want to learn futures and options, you do nothing. And the last couple of years, the best thing to do was ignore everybody’s advice and sell out of the field.”

But, this year is already different from 2012.

“Last year we had to take prices higher to curb demand,” Gulke says. “And, this year we’re going into a crop where we’ve already terribly curbed demand. Exports are less than half. Feed usage is down. Ethanol is down. You’re starting out with a low expectation of demand.”

He says that if a reasonably sized crop is produced this year, we will have an oversupply.

“We sometimes lose our focus when money has been too easy to make,” he says. “I think that’s what we have in agriculture. You didn’t have to be a good marketer last year to make money. But, I think that’s changing.”

Reports on the Horizon

On April 10, USDA comes out with its monthly Crop Production and World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates reports.

Gulke says the big news in this report will be where USDA decides to put the 3 million extra bushels of corn it found in storage with last week’s Grain Stocks report.

“Where will they put all those extra bushels of corn they found last week?” he asks. “Will they put it in feed usage, or just go right to the bottom line?”

Gulke says this “new” corn will actually put the U.S. ahead of where it was last year at this time in terms of corn usage. “And we thought we were going to run out last year,” he says.

By: University News Release

The drought of 2012 was an extraordinary event, and extraordinary events create extraordinary circumstances. With planting just weeks away, corn and soybean prices are displaying extraordinary inverses ($2 per bushel and more) from today’s price to the price quoted for new crop delivery next fall.

In the next five months, these inverses will be resolved. This means that nearby (old crop) and new crop prices will morph together into one price.

There are two ways to resolve this inverse. One way is for new crop prices to rise and meet the higher nearby prices. This is how the inverse was resolved last year, as drought blanketed the Corn Belt. This scenario would be good news for Minnesota farmers. Minnesota, in general, fared better than most Corn Belt states in last year’s drought, and a number of Minnesota producers still hold last year’s crop in storage.

The other way to resolve the inverse is for old crop prices to collapse toward lower new crop values. History and the productive capacity of the Corn Belt suggest this is the more likely course of resolving the inverse in prices from old to new crop values. There is a double risk in the “normal crop” scenario. Not only could old crop prices collapse, new crop prices could sink even further. This does not bode well for the value of grain in storage, nor does it bode well for producers who have not started to price 2013 corn and soybeans.

Minnesota producers concerned about drought in 2013 seem to have that base covered. Crop insurance is in place, old crop grain is still in storage, and little action has been taken on pricing 2013 corn and soybeans. It may be time to consider the normal crop scenario. Today, new crop pricing opportunities remain at or above production costs. There is no guarantee that this will be true next fall. New crop sales are needed to balance the risk of a “non-drought” scenario.

I took a look at past years with similar inverses (1996, 2011 and 2012 in corn, 1997 and 2004 in soybeans). Analysis of the data offers more information about the resolution of old and new crop prices. Visit the University of Minnesota Extension website at for details.

By: Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer Editor

How do recent droughts compare to 30 years ago?

The drought that settled over more than half of the U.S. last summer was the most widespread in more than 50 years, and now a long dry winter has set up farmers for a nail-biting spring.

Little in our lifetimes tops the 2012 drought disaster, which goes down as among the ten worst of the past century, according to a new report released by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). With records dating to 1895, NCDC’s State of the Climate shows only the extraordinary droughts of the 1930s and 1950s covered more land area than the 2012 drought. By a slight margin, last summer’s drought actually covered more land mass than the infamous 1936 drought.

However, when areas classified as “moderate” drought are excluded, the historical rankings change, notes Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University climatologist. Some droughts were extremely intense, but focused on specific regions rather than sprawling across large swaths of the country.

For example, droughts in 1988, 2000 and 2002 included more than 35% of the U.S. in the “severe” to “extreme” drought categories on the Palmer Drought Severity Index. By comparison, severe to extreme drought covered 32.7% in June 2012.

The drought of 30 years ago was no slouch. The 1983 Midwest drought was associated with very dry conditions, severe heat and substandard crop growth, which affected prices and caused hardship for farmers. Multiple disaster declarations went out in Indiana and neighboring states. Readings of 100° F and higher became prevalent in 1983 during these dry spells across the Midwest, Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions. The heat waves killed 500 to 700 people.

Heading into 2013. In an ironic end to a winter spent fretting about drought, late snows and heavy rains last month renewed the rising of Midwestern rivers. Current conditions show a change in deep soil moisture levels in the eastern U.S.

Nevertheless, drought situations today will have more impact on food prices than 30 years ago, to the tune of about $3.4 billion during the next year or two, says Paul Walsh, a weather analyst for The Weather Company and The Weather Channel. “It has a huge impact, particularly on winter wheat and areas like Colorado,” Walsh says.

By March, Colorado had only seen 50% of its normal snowpack. “That affects agriculture dramatically because water from the snow pack services crops throughout the West.”

Apples-to-Apples Drought Comparison Difficult

The Drought Monitor report debuted in 1999, and the period of detailed records began in January of 2000. One of the many inputs in the Drought Monitor report is the Palmer Drought Severity Index. This index, developed by meteorologist Wayne Palmer in the 1960s, uses mathematical equations incorporating precipitation and temperature data to estimate evaporation, runoff and soil moisture recharge.

The National Climatic Data Center maintains a database of monthly Palmer drought indices dating to 1895. Because of this much longer period of record, the Palmer index can be used as more of an “apples to apples” comparison between recent weather conditions and those from past decades, at least on a meteorological basis.

However, differences in land use and farming practices since the Dust Bowl make the comparison of real-world impacts more complicated. Erosion-control practices and drought-resistant crop hybrids are just two examples of ways in which modern agriculture attempts to mitigate the impacts of severe drought.