The initiation of full-scale corn planting has been delayed across most of the upper Midwest due to continued wet weather and cold soil conditions. A limited amount of corn was planted from the period of April 30 to May 2 in some portions of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. However, less than 25% of the corn is planted in areas that were fortunate to get some corn planted, while virtually no corn is planted in many other portions of the region. By comparison in southern Minnesota, on May 5, 2007, nearly all of the corn and a substantial amount of soybeans were planted and field conditions were excellent. Nationwide, experts are saying that the current dates are the latest corn planting dates that we have seen since 1996, and in some areas the latest since the disastrous year of 1993. Estimates are that only 20% of the corn nationwide was planted by May 4, which compares to a five-year average of over 60% planted by that date.

Most of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa received 1.5-2.5 in. of rain from April 30 to May 2, which came on top of soils that were already close to saturation in most areas. Rivers, streams and drainage ditches are near capacity at a many locations, which means the field drydown process is slowed. The other big issue this spring has been soil temperature. The 2-4-in. soil temperature has barely climbed above 50° F most days in late April and early May, which is usually recognized as the minimal soil temperature for acceptable corn-planting conditions. The 2-in. soil temperature on the morning of May 5 was 53° F at the University of Minnesota research center at Waseca; however, it was below 50° as recently as May 3 and 4. According to research studies, at 50° F it takes corn nearly three weeks to emerge, compared to an emergence time of about 10 days at 60°. Once we reach May 1, most crop experts would recommend planting the corn once field conditions are fit – regardless of soil temperatures – due to potential yield losses associated with later planting dates.

We are now reaching the point with corn planting dates in southern Minnesota where optimum yield potential starts to decline with the full-season corn hybrids. Most university and seed company research shows that optimum yield starts to decline with corn planting dates after May 5-10; however, yield declines become much more significant with corn planting dates after May 20. Most experts recommend that growers stay with their full-season corn hybrids until at least May 25, because the shorter-season corn hybrids have much lower yield potential than the full-season hybrids. The later corn planting dates also increase the likelihood of increased corn drying costs in the fall, due to the later maturity dates of the corn. We are now also in the optimum time for soybean planting, so most farm operators will begin planting soybeans as soon as they complete corn planting.

New Farm Bill Gets Closer
During the week of April 28 to May 2, the U.S. House and Senate Conference Committee did considerable work on reaching agreement for a new farm bill. Congress also passed their sixth extension of the current farm bill since September 30, 2007, when the 2002 Farm Bill originally expired. The extension continues the existing programs and funding baselines that exist in the 2002 Farm Bill through May 16, 2008. These extensions do not authorize 2008 sign-up for commodity farm programs or any farm program payments. Without the extensions, there would be no farm bill in place, and farm programs would revert to permanent farm law, which is based on the Agricultural Act of 1949. This legislation is suspended each time a new farm bill is passed.

We are a lot closer to finalizing a new bill than we were a few weeks ago, but there are still a few issues to be worked out by the U.S. House and Senate Conference Committee before the final version of the new farm bill is voted on by both houses of Congress. If the new bill passes, President Bush must still sign it before it becomes law. The Administration has raised several issues with the new bill relative to the increased spending levels and budget offsets, payment limits and the proposed target price and loan rate increases for some crops. So, there is still a strong possibility of a presidential veto, which would again force the development of a new farm bill back to Congress.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.