The spring planting season seems to be arriving later this year. Hopefully, by the beginning of May, planters will be rolling in fields throughout the Midwest.
The Peoria area saw a record amount of snow this winter—one of the coldest winters we’ve seen in several years—so the subsoil should have been recharged with plenty of moisture… right? Unfortunately, when temperatures warmed up and the snow melted, it drained off the land without soaking into the soil. Why? The weather turned cold early this past winter and the soil froze solid, with the average frost line 2½ to three feet deep. Of course, frozen soil is not conducive to water draining through it.
Overall, the cold, snowy winter was likely beneficial in setting the stage for a successful crop year. These hard freezes, with some periodic thaw periods, are good for the soil. Freezing loosens soil particles and relieves the field compaction that occurred last season due to heavy farm equipment. Any moisture in the soil expands when frozen; after it thaws, the soil pores are larger, so water and nutrients flow through it much easier and plant roots can grow deeper.
The cold winter should also have helped with insect issues such as Japanese beetle grubs, the bean leaf beetle and the corn leaf beetle. Granted, some insect pressure occurs because the culprits will catch a ride on spring storm systems coming up from the southern part of the country (fall armyworm and black cutworm moths). Other insects will overwinter in residue left from crops last fall, while still others will overwinter in the developmental stage that is most tolerant of winter conditions. Corn rootworms, soybean aphids and several grasshopper species overwinter as eggs. These are just a few of the pests that can attack crops; farmers must always keep a watchful eye during the growing season.
As a general rule, soil temperatures need to be at least 50 degrees for corn to germinate and 60 degrees for soybean seeds to germinate. Farmers will consider this before taking a chance on planting, so their seeds aren’t left to rot in the soil if temperatures remain below those critical thresholds. In this day and age, corn and soybean seed has become a huge financial investment—one of the most important investments for farmers. One bag of corn seed (80,000 kernels) costs nearly $300, while a bag of soybean seed (140,000 seeds) costs about $60. With one bag of corn planting three acres and a bag of soybeans covering one acre, a farmer has invested $100 and $60 per acre respectively—on seed alone. That’s a significant investment compared to just 20 years ago.
On March 31st, the USDA issued its annual Prospective Plantings report, which estimates the acres farmers are expected to plant with corn, soybeans and other crops. The general consensus from the USDA and private forecasters alike is for 92 million acres of corn and 81 million acres of soybeans to be planted in the U.S. this year. This would be a shift to more soybean acres, which stands to reason, as the price of soybeans has increased in comparison to corn. We will know much more by the end of June, when corn and soybean planting is basically complete for the year. iBi