There’s an old saying that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. In spring 2009, the eastern and western Corn Belts seem to be traveling in parallel universes that aren’t likely to meet any time soon.

As of May 10, only 11% of the anticipated corn acreage had been planted in Indiana, while corn growers in Illinois had put in 10% of their projected acreage. That compares to the five-year average of 70% in Indiana and 84% in Illinois. In contrast, Iowa farmers had planted 81% of their corn compared to 76% for the five-year average for May 10. Iowa’s 2009 corn seedings are way ahead of last year’s when heavy rains and flooding limited the total to 42% on May 10, 2008.

That doesn’t mean farmers have enjoyed the same success in planting across the entire state. Slightly more than a third of the corn had been planted in east-central, south-central and southeast Iowa through May 4, according to Roger Elmore, Extension corn specialist at Iowa State University.

“In the remaining districts, over half of the corn had been planted with the most reported in northwest Iowa at 78%,” he says. “Some producers have already completed planting. We are far ahead of the states to our East where heavy rains have kept fields too wet for planters.”

The big differences in planting between the three “I” states – which accounted for 36% of the U.S. corn acres in 2008 – are mirrored in other parts of the country where rain has kept fields waterlogged and growers wondering when they can plant corn and other crops.

In Michigan and Ohio, 18% and 22%, respectively, of the corn acres had been planted as of May 10 compared to 62% and 68%, respectively, for their five-year averages. Kentucky was also struggling with 39% of its acreage seeded compared to the five-year average of 83%. Extension specialists with the University of Kentucky (UK) were advising growers to be patient and wait for better weather conditions.

“Mudding in corn creates compaction, which causes limited growth potential and limited nutrient intake and results in yield losses far worse than waiting two or three days to plant corn under better weather conditions,” says Chad Lee, UK Extension grain crops specialist.

In a normal year, most of Kentucky’s corn acres would be planted by May 15, says Lee. But that might not happen in 2009. “The challenge is being patient enough to wait on those extra days of dry weather while knowing you have a lot of acres that need to get planted.”

Farmers in the Midsouth have also been moisture-challenged because of an unusually wet April that has continued to delay planting of corn, cotton and soybeans into May.
With the latest round of precipitation, farmers north of I-20 in Mississippi have received more than 5 in. of rainfall, according to Erick Larson, Extension corn and wheat specialist at Mississippi State University. “It is extremely wet; there’s flooding in low-lying areas.”

Farmers in Arkansas have been forced to replant a considerable number of acres due to the excessive moisture that has fallen in April and early May. Some growers have wanted to replant but haven’t been able to get enough dry days to get back in their fields, says Extension agronomist Jason Kelley with the University of Arkansas.

Missouri growers are also trying to make up for lost time. Only 39% of their corn acres had been planted as of May 10, compared to the five-year average of 75%. Extension specialists have become concerned about crop injury from pre-emergence herbicides due to cool, wet soil conditions.

Current weather forecasts indicate rain will continue to fall across the Midwest for several days. Meteorologists with StormX, an online weather service, say a cold front moving eastward could spark showers and thunderstorms across Iowa and Illinois on Wednesday (May 13) followed by more rainfall in Indiana and Ohio Thursday (May 14).
The continued delays in planting, especially in the eastern Corn Belt states, could mean a drop of as much as 2 million acres, according to Terry Francl, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Farmers in many of the top corn-producing states are telling the same story,” he says. “This year’s wet and cold spring has significantly delayed planting, and they need warm and dry weather so they can get into the fields and plant their crops. In some parts of the country, soil temperatures are still too low to germinate seed.”

Francl notes that U.S. farmers had planted 48% of the corn acres by May 10, compared to the five-year average of 71%, mainly due to the wet conditions in the eastern Midwest and southern states.

“Analysts are thinking corn-planted acreage may be reduced up to 1 million acres, and if the rain delays and cool weather continue for another week or two, acreage could drop by as much as 1.5-2 million acres,” he notes. “Most of those acres will be shifted to soybeans.”