Midwest Farmers Return to Fields


SPRING planting is back on track in the Midwest. After weeks of wet and cool weather, farmers are finally getting back to their fields. For some, the last two weeks have seen the first fieldwork since April.

The weather has delayed soybean planting and left farmers little time to get in their corn crop before yields start to suffer.

``It's one of the five wettest Mays of all time'' in the Midwest, says Jon Davis, agricultural meteorologist with Shearson Lehman Hutton.

Overall, the wet and cold spell has held the region's corn planting to 88 percent, compared with the five-year average of 97 percent, he calculates. Soybeans are 47 percent planted, compared with an average 73 percent.

That's not particularly bad for an average, but it disguises some serious delays in Missouri, and southern areas of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

``We are still two weeks behind average,'' says Ralph Gann, Indiana's agricultural statistician. ``In the southern part of the state we are as much as a month behind average.''

As of the beginning of June, 81 percent of Indiana's corn crop and 43 percent of the soybean crop were planted, compared with the five-year averages of 95 percent and 74 percent for this time of year. In the southern third of the state, only 42 percent of the corn and 11 percent of the soybean crops have been planted so far.

Illinois is usually finished with corn planting by this time in the season, but only 79 percent had been completed. Soybean planting was running at 46 percent, compared with an average 90 percent. Hardest hit were the southern areas, where rainstorms and flooding left one district with only 10 percent of its corn planted.

Midwest farmers have until the end of the month to plant soybeans before the growing season gets too short and reduces yields. For corn, however, the timing is more critical. Southern Illinois farmers probably have until June 15 to plant corn before they start switching to soybeans or other crops, like grain sorghum, says Illinois agricultural statistician Fred Barrett.

``If we get a lot of rain this week, that will really put 'em behind,'' adds Jim Ramey, Ohio's agricultural statistician.

But the outlook has improved: The region's weather pattern has changed from wet and cool to dry and warm, Mr. Davis says. Not only will that let farmers complete planting, it will also help their crops come up in healthy fashion.

``Overall, things are looking pretty good right now,'' says Harry Hillaker, climatologist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Although the rain has delayed planting, it has also recharged the soil's moisture reserves and lessened the possibilities of a drought later this season.

``When we start the year as wet as we have, it's almost unheard of that we have a dry summer,'' Mr. Hillaker says.

That's an important turnaround for Iowa. Last year was its seventh driest year on record; 1988 was its third driest year.

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