SPRING PLANTING READY TO BEGIN
Like the start of a big NASCAR race or the beginning of a Championship game, many farmers in Southern or
Western Minnesota and Iowa are ready to begin full-scale field work as soon as field conditions are fit for planting.
Most farm operators across the region have reported almost ideal soil conditions; however, rainfall, snowfall, and
cooler weather during the first week of April in most areas delayed the initiation of major fieldwork. It appears
that the 2024 planting season may be similar to 2021 in much of the Upper Midwest, with fairly favorable corn
planting conditions in the last half of April. Having favorable weather and planting conditions in April is always
a big plus for getting the corn and soybean crop off to a good start.

Some areas of the Upper Midwest received some much-needed precipitation in late March and early April,
including additional rainfall this past weekend in some areas. Much of the southern half of Minnesota has received
2-3 inches of precipitation in the past three weeks, with even higher amounts in localized areas. Precipitation
amounts have been less in some other areas of the Midwest. The recent precipitation followed extremely dry
conditions during most of February and the first half of March. This continued a dryness pattern across the Upper
Midwest that has existed since last Fall. In the latest USDA weekly crop report, the percentage of topsoil moisture
in various States that was listed as “short” or “very short” included: Iowa at 59% and Kansas at 46%, with
Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri, North and South Dakota all at 36%-39%, followed by Wisconsin and
Indiana at 26%. These levels of top soil moisture are all below normal for early in the growing season.

Many areas of the Upper Midwest and Central Plains States have remained quite dry in recent months. The most
recent U.S. Drought Monitor on April 4 listed Iowa as the driest State in the Upper Midwest with 70 percent of
the State in “severe” or “extreme” drought. The percentage of “severe” or “extreme” drought in other States with
higher drought levels included: Minnesota at 43 percent, Wisconsin at 31 percent, Missouri at 30 percent, and
Kansas at 29 percent. A high percentage of the entire region except the Eastern Corn Belt was listed as
“abnormally dry” or worse in the latest Drought Monitor summary. The good news is that drought conditions
have improved on many potions of the region in the past several weeks. The worst continuing drought conditions
appear to be in Eastern Iowa, along with adjoining areas of Southeast Minnesota and Southwest Wisconsin.

In years such as this, with the likelihood of an early start to the planting season, crop producers need to pay
attention to the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) planting date guidelines to maintain full crop insurance
coverage for the 2024 corn and soybean crop. The earliest corn planting date allowed by RMA to maintain full
crop insurance protection in most of Minnesota and Iowa is April 11, while April 21 is the earliest planting date
allowed for soybean planting for full insurance coverage. For initial and final planting dates in all States and other
Federal crop insurance information, please refer to the RMA website at: https://www.rma.usda.gov/.

Soil temperatures in early April have remained below levels for ideal corn planting in many areas of the Upper
Midwest. At the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center near Waseca in Southern Minnesota, the
24-hour average soil temperature during the first week of April was near 40 degrees Fahrenheit at the 4-inch level.
Soil temperatures in this range are below the minimum desired soil temperature of 50 degrees for good corn
planting and seed germination conditions. Soil temperatures in the 2 to 4-inch range should warm up rapidly in
the Upper Midwest, with some much warmer temperatures expected by mid-April. Farmers and agronomists tend
to pay close attention to soil temperatures early in the growing season; however, soil temperatures become less
of a concern by late April. At that point, getting the crop in the ground gets to be more of a priority rather than
soil temperatures, as the ideal corn planting window gets much shorter.

Research shows that 50 percent corn emergence will occur in 20 days at an average soil temperature of 50 degrees
Fahrenheit, which is reduced to only 10 days with an average soil temperature of 60 degrees F. The likely
enhancement in soil temperatures certainly provides optimism to have favorable conditions for corn germination
and seedling growth. The warmer soil temperatures are also favorable for the initiation of soybean planting, which
usually does not occur until May in many areas. Every year is different, and agronomists encourage producers to
adjust to soil conditions and weather forecasts when making corn and soybean planting decisions.

Unless conditions turn very wet in the next few weeks, a large majority of corn in Minnesota could easily be
planted before the end of April this year. Corn planting delays can significantly impact final corn yields. In both
2018 and 2019 a majority of the corn was planted from mid-May until early June. According to the USDA Weekly
Planting Progress Report, only 2 percent of the corn in Minnesota had been planted at the end of April in 2019,
which was about 15 days behind normal. Minnesota’s corn yield declined from record yield levels in 2015, 2016
and 2017 to 182 bushels per acre in 2018 and only 174 bushels per acre in 2019. In 2023, only 5 percent of the
corn was planted by May 1 and the final statewide corn yield of 185 bushels per acre.

Historically, early planting of corn usually leads to higher-than-normal state average corn yields in Minnesota
and other Upper Midwest States. In several years when 50 percent or more of the corn acres in Minnesota have
been planted in April or the first week of May, the State has usually set or been near a record corn yield. In 2015,
corn planting in Minnesota was 83 percent completed by May 3, resulting in a record yield of 188 bushels per
acre, which was followed with 89 percent of the corn planted by May 8 in 2016, again resulting in another record
statewide corn yield of 193 bushels per acre. In 2020, when 76 percent of the corn was planted by May 3, the
statewide corn yield was 192 bushels per acre, just short of the statewide record corn yield. One exception was in
2017, when most of Minnesota’s corn was planted in the first two weeks of May; however, very favorable growing
conditions throughout the year in most areas resulted in a statewide record corn yield in 2017.

The record corn yield of 195 bushels per acre in 2022 was also an exception to this trend, as Minnesota did not
achieve 50 percent of the corn planted until around May 15. It should be noted that a much higher percent of the
corn in Southern Minnesota had been planted by May 10, and the counties in the southern third of the State were
largely responsible for the record statewide corn yield. Another exception was in 2021 when 71 percent of the
statewide corn acreage was planted by May 3; however, the 2021 average corn yield in Minnesota was only 178
bushels per acre due to drought conditions during the critical crop growing months of June and July in many
portions of the State that greatly reduced corn yields. In areas of the State that received adequate rainfall at the
critical times, the 2021 corn yields were above average to near record levels.

Once farmers have completed planting their corn acres, most farm operators will likely move directly into soybean
planting. A majority of soybean producers in the Upper Midwest strive to plant soybeans in late April and early
May; however, the ideal window to plant soybeans and still achieve optimum yields is much wider than with
corn. The ideal soybean planting time frame in most areas extends from mid-April until mid-May or slightly
beyond. Similar to earlier corn planting dates, research does show that with favorable growing conditions there
is a yield advantage to planting soybeans in late April or early May, as opposed to in late May.

With the addition of the recent rainfall, soil conditions have been described as “almost ideal” for Spring planting
by farm operators and agronomists in many areas the Upper Midwest. Unless there any further significant amounts
of precipitation in the next week or so, most crop producers in the region should be able to begin full-scale corn
planting once soil conditions are fit. The recent precipitation should also provide adequate topsoil moisture for
good corn germination and emergence in most of this region; however, periodic moderate rainfalls during planting
season can be beneficial for good seed germination and early season plant growth.
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Note — For additional information contact Kent Thiesse, Farm Management Analyst, Green Solutions
Phone — (507) 381-7960; E-mail — kentthiesse@gmail.com