More signs of trouble for corn
A sluggish spring could mean a disappointing harvest on top of already-high corn prices.
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“There’s still water sitting in the field,” says Mr. Biehl, who’s been farming in the area for more than 40 years. “If we get it planted in the next two weeks, provided we get the right rainfall this summer, we could still get a better crop than last year.... But come the end of May, there’ll be a lot of people worrying.”
A cold, wet spring has hindered Biehl and countless other farmers. While a good stretch of dry weather could still allow them to plant within their target window, the later the planting goes, the more likely it becomes that their harvest will be disappointing.
With corn prices already sky-high and concern rising about grain and food prices worldwide, any hiccup with this year’s crop could have serious implications. “What we’re looking at here is potentially even higher prices if there was a supply disruption,” says Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University in Ames.
There’s very little wiggle room for error, Mr. Hart says, given current demand for things like ethanol and feed and diminishing supplies of stockpiled grains. “On corn and soybeans, we are still looking at a pretty tight situation,” he says.
According to the crop progress report from the US Department of Agriculture on Monday, about 51 percent of the US corn crop has been planted, behind the five-year average of 77 percent. This actually represents a significant increase from the week before. Still, some states have been particularly delayed: Minnesota normally has 82 percent of its corn crop in by now, but this year, just 32 percent has been planted. In Iowa, where the average is also 82 percent, 46 percent of the crop is in the ground.
“You like to get it in between April 15 and May 10 or 15. That’s the primo time,” says John Hawkins, a spokesman with the Illinois Farm Bureau. “Once you get past May 15, the clock is starting to run out. When you get to Memorial Day, that’s when they start hitting the panic button.”
Mr. Hawkins and others emphasized that a late planting does not necessarily mean a poor crop in the fall, since so many weather factors throughout the summer play a part. But the worry is that the crucial “tasseling” period for the corn, when it pollinates, will come later – at the peak of summer heat.