Like the start of a big race, or the beginning of a championship game, farmers in Minnesota are anxiously awaiting the initiation of full-scale fieldwork. Near normal temperatures during the past several days, after very cool temperatures in early April, have farm operators poised to start tillage practices and to begin planting corn. However, the rainfall and wet snow that fell across Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa during early April has kept most fields too wet to begin spring fieldwork. In addition, soil conditions have remained too cool for ideal planting conditions, due to much colder than normal temperatures during early April.

Once the fields dry-out, the soil should be very fit for planting, if we get a little warmer weather. The 24-hour average air temperature on April 15 was about 45 degrees F at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, which is close to the normal average air temperature at Waseca for mid-April. As of Monday, April 16, the average 24-hour soil temperatures at Waseca were close to 50 degrees F at the 2-in. level, and in the mid-to-low 40-degree range at the 4-in. and 8-in. soil depths. These soil temperatures are below normal for mid-April, and are still a bit cool for ideal corn planting. However, soils should warm rapidly with some anticipated warmer temperatures in the coming week.

The stored soil moisture in the top five feet of the soil profile is at or near capacity in most areas of Southern Minnesota, as we head into the 2007 growing season. Actually, the current level of stored soil moisture in April is very comparable to the April levels in 2006, as well as in 2001 and 2002. Of course, a wet spring in 2001 caused serious planting delays in many parts on South Central and Southwest Minnesota that led to significant reductions in corn yields. However, in 2002, favorable weather patterns in late April and early May allowed for timely corn planting and very good yields. According to University of Minnesota 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. So, the good news is that we are just at the beginning of this ideal time window for corn planting.

Earth Day
Every year in April, an annual event called Earth Day is recognized across the U.S. For over three decades, this event 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 over 37 million acres in the CRP Program.
  • 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.

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.