By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
By this time last year, most of Indiana’s crops were already planted. Farmers were able to get into fields earlier as a result of dry weather. What a difference a year makes.
Bob Nielson, a corn specialist with Purdue University, said Monday just 1 percent of the corn crop has been planted this year.
“We’re off to another slow start because of the wet fields,” Nielson said.
Wetter-than-normal springs are not new to Indiana farmers. Nielson said there were similar situations in 2011 and also in 2009.
“We always get it planted at some time,” laughed Nielson. “We had an extremely late year for planting in 2009 and by the end of the year, the corn yield was 9 percent higher than average. In 2011, the yield was 9 percent lower than average.”
Nielson said planting time appears to have little effect on yield at the end of the year.
“The farmers are planting late because Mother Nature is keeping them out of the field,” he said. “I’ve learned over 30 years not to get too excited about planting progress.”
Nielson said if planting is not completed in another month, that will be cause for alarm.
“Once the weather cooperates, they can plant acres quickly,” he said. “We still have time.”
Despite reports that more corn than soybeans was going to be planted in 2013, Nielson said he expects farmers to plant the same amount of corn and soybeans in Indiana as last year.
“The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) planting intentions report showed there is not that big a shift from 2012,” Nielson said. “We are picking up some acres of corn, but the soybean acreage is remaining steady.”
Coming off the drought of 2012, Nielson said, most of the soil moisture has been recovered in the state.
“The long-term forecasts are not incredibly accurate,” he said of precipitation expectations for the spring and summer. “I’ve seen some reports where it will be dry and others that indicate it will be a mild summer. No one can tell what is going to happen.”
Richard Miller, who farms on the western side of Howard County, said over the weekend farmers were taking advantage of the dry weather in “droves” to get crops planted.
“It’s a bit of a risk because the ground is still very wet,” he said. “You want to plant the crops in moisture, but not too wet.”
Top layers of soil may dry out and not the subsurface soils, Miller said.
Another risk is after additional rain the ground may harden, making it difficult for plants to break through the top layer of soil.
Miller said farmers still have a few weeks to get their crops in the ground.
“The shorter the length of the growing season, the less time the corn will have to grow to its optimal height,” he said. “The seed companies are not recommending going to a seed that needs a shorter growing season.”
Tipton farmer Kip Bergman, who was planting corn on Monday, said this is a good time to be planting.
“As long as I get it planted by the middle of May, I’ll be alright,” he said. “It’s a little scary when you get all that rain in April. We don’t need another 8-inch rain.”
Bergman said the soil is still a little wet, but he has planted in wetter conditions in the past.
“Right now we need some sunshine,” he said.