Blogging by the Bushel
With numerous challenges over the past several years for producers, we at Mercer Landmark understand the need for a comprehensive risk management solution. We seek to provide our customers with unparalleled service to ensure maximum results.

In every state, county and small town there is always that one farmer who will jump the gun and consistently be the first one to head to fields. The comic below illustrates this point. With Spring coming unusually early this year and temperatures reaching record highs in March, this year will be no exception. In fact there may be corn potentially planted in March, which in most areas is unheard of. Climatologists and meteorologists, and many other people, will remind us all that we could still get severe frosts. After all the average frost free date for Central Illinois is April 14th. Regardless of these warnings, some farmers have and/or may plant early. If farmers choose to plant early, there are crop insurance implications.

Most farmers buy crop insurance for their major crops, such as corn and soybeans, with a sales closing date of March 15. Among its many details, the crop insurance contract specifies an ‘earliest planting date.’ For corn in Ohio, the official RMA earliest planting date is April 6th and April 21st for soybeans. If soils warm up and this warm weather continues, some farmers may want to plant before them.

According to how many policies read if a farmer chooses to plant earlier than the specified earliest planting date for the insured crop in their county, the crop is still insured and losses will be covered, as long as the farmer follows all the remaining contract specifications. However, the farmer gives up eligibility for replant payments that are part of the standard yield protection and revenue protection included in these combo policies. If the warm weather continues, growers will have to weigh the risks and benefits of planting early. For farmers with crop insurance coverage, which is most Ohio farmers, one of the risks of planting early to consider is the loss of replant coverage.

On the other end of the spectrum, many producers are still waiting to plant. They are concerned that a return to normal temperatures –with lows are in the thirties and highs are in the fifties through early April – means that cool periods or even frost could slow growth or kill emerged plants. Not only are they concerned about a return to normal temperatures, but they are also concerned with replant. Low yields this past year in turn have caused a somewhat short seed supply. Should they need to replant, this could mean taking inferior hybrids or even being unable to get enough corn to replant.

It is not clear how early planting will affect yields either. Of 12 trials conducted over the past three years, corn planted in late April has yielded more than corn planted in late March or early April nine times. The average advantage from planting later was about four bushels per acre. After late April, yields tend to decline with further delays.

Of course, planting date responses are notoriously unpredictable. It is not certain that corn planted in mid-March will yield less than corn planted during the second half of April. If the season remains dry, corn planted early may tap more soil water than corn planted late. But growing degree days accumulations are low in March and April in normal years, so unless temperatures stay high, early planting will not necessarily mean early pollination, maturity, or harvest. It probably makes sense to get the fields ready to plant, but to hold off on planting until the calendar turns to April. Unless temperatures remain far above normal, the risk of planting now may well outweigh the likely return. But for those who want to be able to say that they planted corn earlier than ever before – and before their neighbors – 2012 is providing the opportunity.

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