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Spring Planting: East Leads West, But Will It Matter?

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Written Tuesday, May 15, 2001  

Like the hare in his race with the tortoise, Indiana and Ohio farmers have run out to a big planting lead over farmers in parts of the Western Corn Belt.

But as the hare's overconfidence led to defeat, Indiana and Ohio farmers should not take their position for granted, said Chris Hurt, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service agricultural economist.

Favorable conditions have helped Eastern Corn Belt farmers get corn and soybean crops in the ground in near record time. Continued wet weather in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas has put planting in those states weeks behind.

Does it all add up to victory for the Eastern Corn Belt? Maybe or maybe not, Hurt said.

Farmers in the rain-soaked west could scrap plans to plant corn and shift acres over to soybeans. Conversely, the dry spring that allowed early planting in the east could turn troublesome if rain does not renew subsoil moisture, Hurt said.

"There could be some price implications for Indiana and Ohio farmers," Hurt said. "Fewer corn acres could strengthen corn prices somewhat, and possibly weaken soybean prices."

The planting gap between east and west is staggering. According to Monday's U.S. Department of Agriculture crop progress report, corn planting was 99 percent completed in Indiana and 94 percent finished in Ohio. The five-year planting averages are 56 percent for Ohio and 55 percent for Indiana.

"Farmers in Indiana and Ohio will wrap up corn planting this week," Hurt said.

Soybean planting was 80 percent finished in Indiana and 75 percent done in Ohio -- significantly ahead of five-year averages of 29 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

The numbers are almost reversed in the Western Corn Belt. The USDA report indicated Iowa farmers have planted 67 percent of the corn crop, compared with 31 percent in North Dakota, 29 percent in Minnesota and 22 percent in South Dakota. All were well off their five-year averages.

Soybean planting in the four Western Corn Belt states also was lagging. Only Iowa had completed as much as 13 percent, the USDA said.

The corn planting picture is brighter for the nation as a whole.

"The planting rate for the entire country was at 72 percent completed, compared to a five-year average of 71 percent, suggesting no concerns," Hurt said.

History indicates that planting delays like those in the Western Corn Belt portend a move of corn acres into soybeans, Hurt said.

"Since 1980, the three years when corn planting was severely delayed were in 1984, 1993 and 1995," he said. "In these years corn planted by the second week of May was at 29 percent, 40 percent and 36 percent, respectively -- far lower than the 72 percent this year.

"In those years, acres did come out of corn as measured by the difference in acres actually planted versus the March intentions. In 1984, farmers ended up planting 1.1 million fewer acres, but the impacts were much larger in 1993, with 3.2 million fewer acres, and 1995, with 3.8 million fewer acres."

With time left to plant corn, acreage shifts of those magnitudes may not occur this year, Hurt said.

"Minnesota, the Dakotas and Iowa were expected to plant nearly 24 million acres of corn, or perhaps 31 percent of the national total," he said. "That raises the possibility that some shifting will occur -- perhaps in the range of a half million to 1.5 million acres. This would, of course, be dependent upon the amount of wetness in the next two weeks."

Reduced corn acres in the Western Corn Belt may be offset somewhat by additional acres in the east because of early planting, Hurt said.

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