A Publication of WTVP

What an unusual winter and early spring we’ve had! Weather reports indicate that we shattered the record for average high temperature in March: the previous record was around 50 degrees, and this March, the Peoria area averaged 55 degrees. In the April 2nd issue of FarmWeek, there is a picture of a farmer in a field of corn with plants already at the three-leaf stage. This field was planted on March 7th. Granted, it was near Flora, in the southern part of the state, but there have been several fields with corn already emerging in the Decatur and Taylorville areas, both further north.

According to the Illinois Weather and Crops Report issued by the Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service on April 2nd, statewide temperatures the last week of March averaged 57.7 degrees—nearly 11 degrees above normal. With the ideal conditions, corn planting progress had already reached five percent statewide.

So, what is the risk of taking advantage of the early ideal planting conditions? The primary risk I see is a late frost. Lethal temperatures for both corn and soybeans are at or below 28 degrees. The growing point of a corn plant remains below ground until it is about 10 inches tall; therefore, it is reasonably protected from a frost. But when air temperatures drop to lethal levels for a few hours, the growing point of a young plant can be damaged or killed.

Soybeans are more susceptible to frost because their growing points are above ground as soon as they emerge above the soil surface. Soybean buds develop at each leaf axil of the plant, and frost damage below all of these leaf buds translates to the complete death of the plant. If any of the buds remain alive, the plant will recover.

What is the average date for a last frost? In the Peoria area, it’s April 22nd. In the Springfield and Decatur areas, it’s April 20th. Basically, if a frost or freezing temperatures do occur, farmers will likely need to wait three to five days to really assess the damage. Cool days following a frost will slow the plant’s recovery in assessing the damage and the plant’s viability.

In the Peoria area, generally in the first week of April, most farmers keep their planters in sheds. One reason is insurance. Financial risks involved in farming have skyrocketed the past few years. Ten years ago, a bag of seed corn could be purchased for $100; today, it’s around $300. One bag of corn contains 80,000 kernels and will plant around three acres. With current crop insurance policies, farmers must plant corn after April 5th and soybeans after April 20th in order for seed cost to be covered if a late frost strikes, and corn or soybeans need to be replanted.

Time will tell if the corn that was planted early will pay dividends for farmers. If it can survive any or all frost scares, there is a good chance it will yield as well as, if not better than, corn planted later. As always, final yields for both corn and soybeans are ultimately determined by the weather in June, July and August. Daytime temperatures in the 80s with overnight temperatures dipping into the 60s—and plenty of rainfall and sunshine—would be a primary ingredient for heavy grain hauling this fall. iBi