Like the start of a big race, or the beginning of a championship game, farmers in Minnesota and Iowa have begun the initiation of full-scale fieldwork. Very cool temperatures existed during early April, however, soil temperatures by mid-April were much more conducive to the initiation of corn planting in southern Minnesota. Spring fieldwork and corn planting have begun in many areas of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Farm operators have also planted early peas and small grain crops in many areas, and a considerable amount of spring fertilizer and manure applications have taken place. Soil conditions have remained too cold and wet for ideal planting conditions in some areas of central Minnesota to begin spring fieldwork.

At the University of Minnesota (U of M) Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, MN, the average soil temperature at the 4-in. level on April 17 was 53° F, and 54.5° at the 2-in. level, which is nicely into “the ideal temperature window” for corn planting. The long-term average soil temperatures on April 17 at Waseca are 45° F at the 4-in. level, and 45.9° at the 2-in. level, which is very close to where soil temperatures were in mid-April a year ago in 2008. There appears to be no reason to delay corn planting in 2009 due to soil temperatures, once the field conditions are fit for planting. The stored soil moisture in the top 5 ft. of the soil profile is normal to slightly above in most areas of southern Minnesota as we head into the 2009 growing season; however, stored soil moisture is slightly less than spring 2008 in most areas. Topsoil conditions in some areas have begun to dry out rapidly due to limited rainfall this spring.

According to U of M and private seed company research, the “ideal time window” to plant corn in southern Minnesota in order to achieve optimum yields is April 20 to May 5. The good news is that we are just at the beginning of this ideal time window for corn planting, and many producers already have a significant amount of corn planted. Unless conditions turn very wet in the next couple of weeks, most corn in southern Minnesota should be planted during that ideal window in 2009.

Earth Day 2009
For over the past three and a half decades, an annual event called Earth Day has been held in late April across the U.S., which has been a time for all U.S. citizens to reflect on our country’s environmental resources and what we can do individually and as communities to help enhance our environment for the next generation. In recent years, it has become fashionable to point the finger of blame at agriculture and farmers for many environmental issues. However, in reality farmers have been some of the best environmental stewards in the U.S. in the past couple of decades. This has been accomplished with a relatively small investment of federal tax dollars.
Consider the following environmental facts about U.S. agriculture:

  • Since 1982, the soil erosion rate on U.S. cropland has been reduced by over 40%.
  • Conservation tillage is now used on nearly 40% of all cropland in the U.S.
  • Farm owners have enrolled about 35 million acres in CRP.
  • From 1997 to 2002, U.S. farmers and ranchers added 131,400 acres of new wetlands.
  • More than half of all U.S. producers intentionally provide habitat for wildlife.
  • Each year farmers plant hundreds of thousands of trees through SWCD tree planting programs.

Following is some recently released data from the National Corn Growers Association:

  • Due to enhanced genetics in corn hybrids to control insects and manage weeds, U.S. corn producers use 80% less insecticide and over 20% less herbicide per acre today than they did in 1995.
  • Corn producers use 10% less fertilizer per bushel produced today than they did in 1995.
  • In 2007, it required 37% less land, 27% less irrigation water and 37% less energy to produce a bushel of corn than it did in 1987.
  • A bushel of corn in 2007 was produced with a 69% reduction in soil loss and 30% lower emissions of greenhouse gases than in 1987.

There is still a lot to be accomplished to manage global warming and other environmental issues; however, we can rest assured that the agriculture industry will do their part to find solutions.

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.