By Doug Schmitz
AMES, Iowa – Planting season has started in southern parts of the Corn Belt and the Ohio River Valley area, with temperatures warm enough there – and likely past freeze and significant freeze risk – to begin planting, said Dennis Todey, USDA Midwest Climate Hub director in Ames.
“The bigger limitation in parts of this area is wet soils,” he said. “Wet soils are more of an issue in southern Illinois and Indiana, currently. While much of the eastern Corn Belt was wet throughout most of the winter, they started dry coming out of the fall, and have been drier over the last 30 days.”
For most of the area from Iowa to the east, he said the concern is warm-enough soil temperatures.
“Looking at those this a.m. (April 6), much of the area is close enough to 50 F, or warmer,” he said. “There will probably also be isolated areas that are not dry enough yet. But I would expect more widespread planting activity to start (this week, beginning April 9).
“We are coming up on crop insurance dates,” he added. “And the area is going to see very warm temperatures for much of (this week). The warmth will help push soil temperatures, and will help dry out surfaces.”
He said, “Just for comparison, we have a completely different set of issues in the northern Corn Belt. Here, there is still a significant snow pack over large areas that has to be melted. I would expect the warmth into (this) week to remove a great deal of snow quickly. How soon planting occurs here is a concern. There will be some delays. But I am cautiously optimistic that soil can be ready to go sooner.”
On April 3, the USDA released the first Crop Progress and Condition Report for the 2023 growing season.
In Indiana, cold weather and saturated soils limited fieldwork throughout much of the state, said State Statistician Nathanial Warenski at the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Indiana Field Office.
“Soil moisture levels were not conducive to fieldwork; 94 percent of topsoil moisture reported as adequate or surplus,” he said. “The average temperature for the week was 43.7 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.2 degrees below normal for the state. The amount of rainfall varied from 0.46 to 1.78 inches over the week.”
He said several areas throughout Indiana experienced storms that caused flooding, and even structural damage for some. Winter wheat condition remained stable, despite excess soil moisture, with 69 percent of the crop rated in good to excellent condition,” he said.
In Illinois, there were 1.7 days suitable for fieldwork in the week ending April 2, 2023, the state’s report said. Statewide, the average temperature was 44.4 degrees, 2.8 degrees below normal. Precipitation averaged 0.67 inches; 0.30 inches below normal.
In addition, the report said Illinois topsoil moisture supply was rated 1 percent very short, 4 percent short, 51 percent adequate, and 44 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture supply was rated 1 percent very short, 5 percent short, 60 percent adequate, and 34 percent surplus. Winter wheat condition was 4 percent very poor, 5 percent poor, 35 percent fair, 43 percent good, and 13 percent excellent.
In Michigan, persistent wet conditions delayed the start of planting across most of the state, according to Marlo D. Johnson, director of the Great Lakes Regional Office in East Lansing.
In the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, fields were still covered in snow.
“Further south, producers reported fields and pastures as muddy and wet from snow melt and heavy rain from the week’s severe thunderstorms,” Johnson said. “Planting across the state has been delayed until the cold and wet conditions improve.
“Winter wheat has yet to break dormancy across much of the state,” she added. “Other activities during the week included fertilizing where conditions allowed, tending livestock, and preparing for planting.”
In Ohio, gusty winds and rainy days kept early-season fieldwork to a minimum the week ending April 2, according to the Great Lakes Regional Office.
“Heavy rain drenched fields in northwestern counties, as well as in the southernmost quarter of the state,” the state’s report said. “Reporters in northwestern counties noted that last week’s winds resulted in damage to some buildings and tree canopies.”
Ohio’s oats were 3 percent planted and 2 percent emerged, consistent with crop development last year at this time, the state’s report said. Winter wheat was 2 percent jointed, and winter wheat condition was rated 59 percent good to excellent.
In addition, reporters described greening and growth in alfalfa and hay fields, supported by this spring’s relatively mild temperatures. Fruit-producing districts remarked on the poor condition of stone fruit, damaged by severe storms last December.
In Iowa, colder-than-normal temperatures for the week left farmers with 1.6 suitable days for fieldwork during the week ending April 2, according to NASS.
“Parts of the state still reported frost in the topsoil, while select counties in southern and eastern Iowa experienced hail and tornadoes,” the state’s report said. “Although minimal fieldwork occurred over the last week, some producers were able to apply anhydrous, manure, and dry fertilizer. A few instances of oat seeding were reported.”
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said, “An active end to March brought beneficial precipitation to much of Iowa, but also a severe weather outbreak with multiple destructive tornadoes in eastern Iowa. As farmers look ahead to spring field work, the longer-term April outlook is indicating that we could see above-average precipitation for the month, with drier short-term conditions to start.”
In Kentucky, the state’s report said the Commonwealth saw some mild days and frosty nights through the middle of the workweek.
“The coldest temperatures were seen Tuesday (March 28) and Wednesday (March 29) night as skies cleared and lows dipped into the upper-20s to mid-30s,” the report said. “Dry conditions were the norm until late in the work week when a strong storm system pushed through the area on Friday.”
In addition, late in the week, a storm front passed through; however, much of the severe activity occurred outside of the state, the state’s report said.
“While it is still early for planting, a very small amount of corn and soybeans is in the ground,” the state’s report said. “Winter wheat condition continues to be mostly good, with much of the crop avoiding major freeze damage thus far. Freeze damage to winter wheat is reported as 20 percent moderate, 48 percent light, and 32 percent with none.”
The report added several areas reported higher levels of damage, and there is concern for production.
“A second application of nitrogen is being applied to some wheat fields as well,” the state’s report said. “Alfalfa was mostly spared from the recent freeze, with damage reported as 1 percent severe, 6 percent moderate, 32 percent light, and 61 percent with none. It is of note that considerable damage to peach crops was observed.”
In Tennessee, damaging winds hit the state. In West Tennessee, farmers were waiting for drier conditions to start planting corn and soybeans, according to the Tennessee field office in Nashville.
In Middle Tennessee, high winds did an “as yet undetermined” amount of damage, the state’s report said. Frost damage also appeared on wheat, apples, peaches, and strawberries. In East Tennessee, strong winds damaged barn roofs, and, in some instances, downed trees.
In addition, Tennessee farmers were busy with spring fertilizer applications. There were 4.5 suitable days for field work. Topsoil moisture was 2 percent short, 74 percent adequate, and 24 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture was 3 percent short, 78 percent adequate, and 19 percent surplus.
Looking ahead over the next couple weeks, Todey said, “Illinois and east are expecting near-normal to possibly drier conditions, along with the expected very warm conditions. So planting progress should get a good roll.
“We are still not completely out of the woods for freezing conditions,” he added. “But the risk is smaller as we get into late April. Temperatures look warm well through the month right now. Iowa is the interesting battleground area. We have been drier over the last 30 days. That is pretty good for the eastern part of the state.”