Normally by mid-April, Midwest farmers have either begun spring fieldwork, or are within days of the beginning of the planting season for the year. However, 2018 seems to be the “winter that never ends,” as another major snowstorm hit Minnesota and surrounding states this past weekend. Temperatures have been extremely cold during the first half of April, with soils still frozen in many locations. It appears that it could be May 1 or later before full-scale fieldwork begins in most areas of the region.
According to Minnesota state climatology data, the average temperatures in Minneapolis this year during the first 12 days of April have been the coldest since temperature records began in 1872. The 24-hour average temperature in 2018 during that time period was 27.5 degrees, colder than average temperatures of 28.2 degrees in 1920, 29.2 degrees in 1874, 29.4 degrees in 1975, or 32.1 degrees in 1939. During the first 12 days of April, there were over 120 new record low temperatures recorded at weather reporting stations across Minnesota. In addition, following the snowstorm of April 13-15, many portions of the southern half of Minnesota have reached record or near-record snowfall amounts for the month of April, with more snow predicted for later this week.
Early corn planting in the Upper Midwest is usually one of the key factors to achieving optimum corn yields in a given year. Crop research by universities and private seed companies indicates that the ideal planting date for corn in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, when soil conditions are fit, is typically from April 15 to May 10. However, the ideal planting date for corn varies somewhat from year-to-year, depending on soil temperatures and soil conditions. Good corn yields can still be achieved when planting dates are extended into Mid-May. For example, in 2017, following some early corn planting in mid-April, a significant amount of corn in southern Minnesota was planted during a period that extended into mid-May, which ended with a record statewide corn yield in 2017.
Crop consultants and agronomists are encouraging producers to be patient once the snow melts and the soils thaw before initiating fieldwork. Tilling fields to early can result in poor seedbeds and result in poor planting conditions, which can lead to crop emergence problems. Even though corn planting dates may be later than desired, it may be prudent to wait a few extra days to begin corn planting, in order to allow field conditions to reach more optimum levels. Research shows that 50 percent corn emergence will occur in 20 days at an average soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is reduced to only 10 days with an average soil temperature of 60 degrees F. Hopefully, warmer soil temperatures in May will result in improved early season growing conditions.
Based on the March 1 USDA Planting Intentions, Minnesota crop producers were expected to plant 7.5 million acres of corn and 7.9 million acres of soybeans. Iowa farmers are projected to plant 13.3 million acres of corn and 9.8 million acres of soybeans in 2018. Most farm operators will likely not switch intended 2018 corn acres to soybeans, unless corn planting dates get extended into late May or beyond. By April, producers typically have made arrangements for seed, fertilizer and other crop inputs for the growing season, so they are likely to continue with their planned crop rotations.
2018 spring wheat acreage in the U.S is projected at 47.6 million acres, which is an increase of 3 percent from the 2017 spring wheat acreage. Most of that increase would likely to occur in North Dakota and Northwest Minnesota. If the spring wheat planting dates are extended beyond May 1, some of those intended spring wheat acres may be switched to soybean acres for 2018.
One piece of good news for Upper Midwest farm operators is that many portions of the region are in reasonably good shape for stored soil moisture as we head into the 2018 growing season. There are some areas where conditions are a bit drier in Western Minnesota and Iowa, as well as in North and South Dakota. Having adequate soil moisture for corn and soybean germination and early season growth should not be a problem this year in most areas of the Upper Midwest.
Historically, early planting of corn usually leads to higher-than-normal state average corn yields in Minnesota. In fact, in seven of the nine years that 50 percent or more of the state’s corn acres have been planted in April, Minnesota has set a record corn yield. This included the record corn yields of 194 bushels per acre in 2017, 193 bushels per acre in 2016 and 188 bushels per acre in 2015. In 2017, after some favorable planting conditions during the third week of April, the state’s corn planting percentage was at 57 percent on April 30. The corn planting completion rate in Minnesota reached 85 percent by May 7. Given the current field conditions and winter weather conditions in mid-April, it may be difficult to achieve the strong corn yield levels of the past three years in 2018, unless field conditions in the State improve dramatically in the next few weeks.
Most Midwest crop producers are facing very tight profit margins in 2018. Any significant reductions in crop yields for the year below the projected yields for a given farm operation, unless there are improved crop prices, will cause major financial issues for many farm operations by the end of the year. Improved spring planting conditions in the next 4-5 weeks will be critical to crop yields and crop profitability in 2018 for Upper Midwest farm operators.