Like the start of a big race, or the beginning of a championship game, farmers in Minnesota and Iowa are anxiously awaiting the initiation of full-scale fieldwork. Very cool temperatures have existed during most of April, which has caused some farm operators to become a bit concerned with delays in the initiation corn planting. Soil conditions have remained too cold for ideal planting conditions during most of April. Rainfall and wet snow that in some areas of Minnesota and Iowa during early and mid-April has also kept most fields too wet to begin spring fieldwork.

Once the fields dry out, the soil should be very fit for planting – if we get a little warmer weather. The average soil temperature at 4 in. on April 20 across northern Iowa was about 51-52° F, which is barely into the temperature window for ideal corn planting. However, on April 19, soil temperatures at 4 in. in northern Iowa were at only 47°, and 44° on April 18, which are below ideal corn planting conditions. These soil temperatures are below normal for mid-April and 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 5 ft. of the soil profile is at or near capacity in most areas of southern Minnesota as we head into the 2008 growing season. Actually, the current level of stored soil moisture is very comparable to the April levels in 2006 and 2007, as well as in 2001 and 2002. A very 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, 2006 and 2007, 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 window for corn planting, and still have ample time to plant corn to achieve optimum yield potential.

Earth Day is April 22
Over the past three 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. In reality, farmers have been some of the best environmental stewards in the U.S. during 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 36 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 soil and water conservation district 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 its part to find solutions.

End of an Era
A couple weeks ago, on April 11, the South St. Paul Stockyards closed their doors forever. Most persons over 40 years old who grew up on a livestock farm in the upper Midwest have a memory or two regarding trips to the South St. Paul Stockyards. At its height, the stockyard was one of the largest livestock markets in the world. Over the past couple of decades, urban sprawl, changes in the livestock industry and use of the Internet have changed and reduced the livestock mating business at South St. Paul. The major business proprietor at the stockyard over the years has been Central Livestock, headquartered out of South St. Paul. In recent years, Central Livestock has moved much of their livestock marketing business to Zumbrota, MN, and will now move most of their business operations to that location. The land where the stockyard existed will be redeveloped as commercial office space.

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.