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CORNPLANTING

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The magnitude of fluorescence portrayed in this visualization prompted researchers to take a closer look at the productivity of the Midwest corn belt. The glow represents fluorescence measured from land plants in early July, over a period from 2007 to 2011.
 


Farmers optimistic about crops despite prolonged cold

by Abigail Thorpe
Apr 9, 2014


CORN2

Medill

Corn crop in southern Illinois.

While daffodils and tulips are still scarce this spring, Midwest corn farmers are optimistic that the harsh winter won't reduce their harvest. But a hot, dry summer could damage crops.

 

Planting may be slightly delayed due to cold soil temperatures and wetness, according to Carl Bradley, associate professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

 

But farmer Garry Niemeyer of Auburn, Ill., thinks “planting is not delayed as of yet,” and that a successful crop yield “has a lot more to do with the whole season” than just the planting date.

 

The biggest concern for farmers right now is watching soil temperatures, said Niemeyer. Farmers like to plant in soil conditions of about 50 degrees. With the current warmer weather conditions, planting could happen soon and even on time. But if cold, wet weather returns, it could postpone planting until later, which can be an issue.

 

“After mid May there is a slight [drop] in production,” said John Hawkins of the Illinois Farm Bureau.

 

And planting is “just the first hurdle,” said National Corn Growers Association media manager Mark Lambert. The next stage of pollination is extremely important for a quality crop yield, and overly dry, hot temperatures in the summer months when pollination occurs could reduce pollination. Prime temperatures for growing corn are 85 degrees during the day and 65 at night, said Niemeyer.

 

Corn production is highest in the Heartland region of the Midwest and vital to U.S. agriculture production, it is the most widely produced feed grain in the country and farmers export approximately 20 percent of its crop yield overseas, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

 

Data obtained by satellite sensors show that the Midwest Corn Belt boasts the highest gross plant productivity on Earth during its peak season.

 

“I’m more optimistic now than I would have been a year ago” concerning the potential for timely planting and crop yield, said Emerson Nafziger, extension agronomist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne.

 

In 2013 planting was delayed due to wet weather conditions, but farmers had an extremely successful crop. On the other hand, farmers got their crop in early in 2012, yet due to drought and high heat, crop loss was high, ranging from partial to entire loss.

 

“The penalties for delayed planting are pretty variable from year to year,” said Nafziger, who doesn’t see much correlation between winters and yields. There is no way for farmers to predict what will happen with their crop, they just have to be ready to go when it’s time to plant and hope for good growing weather over the summer.

 

New innovations in farm machinery and equipment have made it increasingly faster for farmers to plant their fields, even if planting is delayed. “The confidence farmers have is that when it does get ready they can plant pretty fast,” said Nafziger.

 

There are also new developments in genetically modified corn seed that allow farmers to choose varieties that can be planted earlier in the season during colder temperatures and can withstand drought better, said Lambert.

 

So while we all recover from the ice and snow, corn farmers remain positive and ready to plant when weather permits. “It’s kind of like a race horse, it’s sitting there waiting for them to open the gate,” said Lambert.