EARLY SPRING PLANTING IN 2004
The warmer temperatures expected in the coming days have a lot of farmers in southern Minnesota talking about early spring planting. Of course, everyone is aware that this is Minnesota and early spring weather conditions are quite erratic. Field conditions in most areas should be in excellent shape for the 2004 planting season. Many fields of small grain have been seeded, some early vegetable crops have been planted, and some initial tillage has begun. Normally, full-scale fieldwork in south central Minnesota begins somewhere from April 15-25, and it looks like a good possibility that most farm operators will begin field work and corn planting within that time frame in 2004, assuming favorable weather conditions continue through late April.

The University of Minnesota typically recommends April 20 to May 5 as the ideal window to plant corn in southern Minnesota. Because the weather in that time frame is very unpredictable, most experts feel that anytime after April 15 that the soil conditions are fit and soil temperatures are acceptable, it is probably better to have the corn “in the ground” rather than “in the bag.” Minnesota had a state record average corn yield of 157 bushels per acre in 2002, and another outstanding corn production year in 2003, with a state average yield of 146 bushels per acre. In both years, average corn yields in southern Minnesota were higher than the state average yields, and in both years most of the corn in that region was planted in April.

DRY WEATHER CONCERNS
The continued dry weather pattern across southern and western Minnesota has been a concern to farmers and others. Most of Minnesota is currently listed in a “moderate drought” category by the NOAA U.S. Drought Monitor. This has led to a fire alert in many parts of the state and burning bans in many southern Minnesota counties, as well as very low levels in many area lakes, rivers, and streams. Many sections of south central Minnesota are well below normal for stored soil moisture, as we head into the coming growing season. However, spring rains could alleviate the dry subsoil conditions before they become a concern during the growing season. This has occurred in both the 2002 and 2003 growing seasons. Most crop producers prefer slightly drier than normal conditions during the prime planting season of late April and early May, followed by plentiful rainfall later in the growing season. In the past couple of decades, on the heavy, black soils in south central Minnesota, yield reductions from planting delays in the Spring due to wet soil conditions have usually been greater than yield losses from dry weather problems.

USED FARM MACHINERY VALUES UP
According to the latest sales data, used farm machinery values in the first few months of 2004 have been sharply higher than a year earlier. Auction prices for used farm machinery have been running about 10-20 percent higher than they were at this time in 2003. The market for used tractors and 5-10 year old combines has been especially strong. Some of the reasons for the current strong used machinery market are IRS changes allowing for more rapid depreciation, fewer farm auctions in 2004, lower dealer inventory of used machinery, and the expected higher cost of new machinery due to the rapidly increasing price of steel. Many farm operators have taken advantage of the current excellent grain prices and improved farm profits from the 2003 crop year to upgrade their line of farm machinery.

Editors 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.