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The planting season has seen a much slower pace this year. According to the May 5th Illinois Weather and Crops Release by the Illinois Ag Statistics Service, farmers in Illinois only had 28 percent of the corn crop planted. This compares to 62 percent of the crop planted in 2007 and the five-year average of 76 percent. There was less than one percent of the soybean crop planted on May 5th, compared to the five percent planted in 2007 and 11 percent for the five-year average.

Why the delay in the planting of the 2008 crop? Cool and wet weather. This has been an unusual spring compared to recent years. The farm community in the Peoria area has been accustomed to getting its corn planted by the first week in May. In fact, most farmers didn’t begin planting their corn crop until May 1st this year. Last year, the thought was that farmers were behind if they didn’t finish planting corn by May 1st.

Is this really unusual weather? We have actually had a spring this year—a transition in temperatures from winter to summer. The slow transition in temperatures is most obvious in the progress of the winter wheat crop. Farmers plant approximately 4,000 acres of soft red winter wheat in Peoria County. It is sown in the fall, and soon after it emerges, goes dormant during the cold winter season. In the spring, it comes out of dormancy and continues growing until harvest around July 4th. This year, the winter wheat crop in Illinois was only five percent headed as of May 5th (headed means that the area of the wheat plant that produces the grain was formed and visible). In 2007, 33 percent of the wheat was headed and the five-year average has 30 percent of the wheat headed. This illustrates just how cool this spring has been.

Does the later planting date mean lower corn yields? As a general rule, yields will trend lower if planting is delayed past May 10th. On a per-day basis, the yield loss is minimal if planting is delayed through mid-May, but the yield loss escalates rapidly if corn planting is delayed into June. On the plus side, we have had good spring rains, so groundwater should be recharged in anticipation of normal, hotter and dryer summer temperatures.

What about late-planted soybeans? The first question is what is late for soybeans? Farmers can still harvest excellent-yielding soybeans planted the first week of June. The planting window for optimum yields is much wider for soybeans than it is for corn. In fact, there have been soybeans planted in April, similar to corn. There have also been soybeans double-cropped after wheat harvest. This would put planting at the first part of July. Yields are definitely reduced if they’re planted this late, but a few farmers have ventured to try it. With the higher prices, it makes the farming practice slightly more attractive.

As always, the final results at harvest will be primarily determined by the weather in July and August, as well as insect and disease pressure during the growing season. IBI

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