There has been some limited tillage and corn planting completed in some areas of southern Minnesota from April 23 to April 25, prior to the heavy rains, wet snow and cold temperatures late last week. There has also been some seeding of small grain crops and alfalfa in some areas, as well as some planting of peas. Field conditions in most of Minnesota have been too wet to do any spring fieldwork, with some locations of the state receiving several inches of rainfall and wet snow in April. This has resulted in soils that are totally saturated, with standing water in some fields. In addition, soil temperatures this spring have remain extremely cold, barely reaching above 50° F at the 2-4-in. soil depth for a few days. As of April 28, very little fieldwork has occurred in most areas of southern Minnesota and the adjacent areas of northern Iowa, or at any other locations in Minnesota.

Most research over the past several years has shown that April 20 to the first few days of May is the ideal time to plant corn in southern Minnesota in order to achieve optimum yields. Corn-yield potential starts to decline significantly when the corn-planting date extends beyond May 10. Later planting dates also increase the likelihood that the corn will be wetter at harvest time, requiring more natural gas for corn drying, which can add considerably to the cost of production. As field conditions become fit, most farmers will be planting corn at a rapid pace in the next 10 days. In addition to some drier weather, warm temperatures are needed in the next week to warm up the very cold soil temperatures, in order to achieve optimum conditions for corn planting. Ideally, the soil temperature should be about 55° F for good corn planting conditions, however, 50° F is generally accepted as the minimal soil temperature for corn planting. Most researchers feel that after mid-April, it is best to plant the corn anytime field conditions are fit, regardless of the soil temperature, feeling that the warmer soil temperatures will come in time for good germination.

Custom Rate Explanation
My April 7 column, Farm Custom Rates For 2008, has stirred a lot of discussion in some areas. Primarily from providers of custom farm work who have indicated that the average rates are too low to cover current costs of farm machinery operation, especially with the recent rapid rise in fuel costs. There is certainly some validity to these concerns. The average custom rates listed in the article were based on the annual Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey that is coordinated and analyzed by Iowa State University. The survey sampled 185 custom operators, farm managers and ag lenders late in 2007 on what they expected custom farm rates to be for various farm operations in 2008. Certainly fuel prices have changed somewhat in the past 4-5 months, which means that average custom rates would likely be higher if the survey were taken today. Also, the survey is meant to be a guide, and not the final word on actual custom rates that are charged. There are a lot of variables involved in operation of farm machinery, and considerable variation due to demand and equipment availability in various locations. The Iowa Farm Custom Rate Surveyalso lists a range of custom rates that were reported, as well as the averages. This survey is available here: www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a3-10.pdf.

The University of Minnesota publication Farm Machinery Economic Cost Estimates gives a good estimate of the ownership and operational costs of various farm machinery, and provides an estimate of fuel usage for various farming operations. This publication is available here: www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/businessmanagement/DF6696.pdf.

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.