Expect very little planting in April

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Flooded field
A flooded field near Fredericktown, Ohio.

OK, I guess it’s time that we talk about delayed planting.

In that classic movie, Groundhog Day, the weatherman visiting Punxsutawney, Pa., is asked when he thinks spring will start. The answer came easily: “I’m gonna predict March 21st!”

A month ago, I wrote that on March 21, the sun would set on Windsor Road, and spring would officially be here. I said that would be astronomical spring, but it would still be winter in Ashtabula County, Ohio.

Well, it is still winter in a lot of Ohio. The ground is white with snow again this Tuesday morning. It is the 17th of April, nearly a month into spring, and it is easy to predict that the planters are staying in the shed awhile longer.

This is the fifth white morning in the last 10 days, and the days it has not snowed, it has rained. Some days it has done both.

I don’t know just how much rain we have gotten. The farmer in me has always kept a rain gauge in the back yard, but 40 of the last 44 years, I have left it out too long. It has frozen and broken again, but I know what I need to know about how much it has rained. Too much.

Twelve years ago, we added onto the house, and in the project I dug in a half-dozen open tile inlets to drain the drive and the yard. When the water didn’t go away, I went out in the field behind the house and dug down to find the tile line from the house was plugged with hybrid poplar roots. So, I cut that line over into the next.

Now, when we get a lot of water, that line runs full and I still have puddles in the front yard. We have had puddles for 10 days now.

It doesn’t matter how much more it rains, because we have reached the magic measurement. There is one inch of rain, then three inches, then “full.” The rain just runs off, now, and the forecast is for it to do that for another four days. Late Friday or maybe early Saturday we clear off for three days, then we get rain again.

So, Virginia, unless there is a Santa Claus, there won’t be much corn planted in April this year.

Right now we need 10 days of breezy, 65-degree weather, and we won’t get it.

Market response

The result may be a little run up on corn prices. Wet weather gives the traders something to talk about, but delayed planting doesn’t really matter that much until the first of May.

Corn planted the first of May grows faster than that planted April 17, so most years the early planting only matters because the farms have gotten bigger and we have so much to plant.

If the delayed planting last much longer, however, traders start to wonder if we will switch a few acres to soybeans. They thought this would happen, but the USDA Planting Intentions Report squashed the idea of a million acres more beans. Instead we got a million less.

Watch the weather — that report was only a guess.

Planting (lack of) progress

USDA put out the first corn planting report Monday. It shows that the U.S. has planted 3 percent of the crop already, but 5 percent is the average.

Of course, that planting is only significant in states like North Carolina (30 percent) and Texas (60 percent). The big three, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, have planted zip. They usually are started by now, with Illinois normally at 5 percent, Iowa at 3.

The fact that they are a little behind means nothing this time of year. The fact that they will do nothing more for a while may eventually matter.

It seems to me that the years we start out cold and wet, we tend to stay that way for a time. The years we start out dry, we need to get a head start, since the dry conditions may continue.

The earliest I ever planted corn was on this day, April 17. It was back in the dark ages, maybe 1984? I remember the weather stayed cool and damp, and I stopped in that field to dig up seeds every other day for a long time. It was the 28th of May before the corn showed above the ground. The later corn yielded better.

This time next week I may be talking about the big turnaround in weather. That would be a relief to a lot of people.

In the meantime, I have the plaque on the wall that Squeeze gave me when we were first married. It says, “Pray for a good crop, but keep on hoeing!”

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