An already delayed corn planting season took another hit this week as a freak spring storm laden with wet snow muddied fields — some of them freshly planted — and sent temperatures plunging across northwest Missouri.
The bad weather is especially frustrating because it followed a brief window of sunshine that ushered in optimum planting conditions and allowed many area farmers to get seeds in the ground between Saturday and mid-week.
Estimates vary, but producers and agriculture observers said Thursday that between 25 and 40 percent of northwest Missouri's corn is probably in the ground, with the numbers growing higher west of Maryville along the bluff hills and river bottoms of Atchison and Holt counties.
"There's kind of a story both ways," said Wayne Flanary, University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist for the Northwest Region.
One the one hand, Flanary said, rain and cold — and now snow — has kept farmers out of their fields long past the normal planting season, which should be wrapping up just about now. On the other hand, there is still plenty of time to get a crop in if dry, springlike conditions return.
Thanks to advances in technology and mechanization, it only takes about a week to plant Missouri's entire corn crop, and yield projections decline only slightly in northwest Missouri between May 5 and May 10.
There's still some rain in the forecast, but predictions call for considerably better weather next week, which means that the bulk of the corn crop could be in before May 20, after which the odds on a decent crop begin to lengthen considerably.
If wet weather persists, Flanary said, the end of the corn-planting season can stretch into the middle of June, though prospects for a profitable harvest would be mixed at that point.
Wet fields are the first of the two main weather-related problems faced by farmers during a year when winter just doesn't want to leave. The other is temperature.
Warm water, say above 40 degrees, is essential to germinating seeds, Flanary said. Cold water from melting snow, however, means trouble.
Cold water can cause cause cells within the seed membrane to leak, he explained, and so corn planted just before the snow fell — which is just about everything in the ground — will be at risk if chilly, wet weather continues.
Farmers will need to check their fields in coming days to make sure seeds are germinating correctly, Flanary said. And if they are not, producers will have to replant.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed that Missouri farmers had tilled only 25 percent of their fields as of April 8. That compares to 61 percent at the same time last year and an average of 24 percent over the past five years.
Missouri farmers plant 3.5 million acres of corn annually, according to MU Extension cereal crops specialist Brent Myers, who added that those numbers likely will be down this year even though record snowfalls, as well as heavy rains in March and early April, increased soil moisture at depths below 3-4 feet.
Page 2 of 2 - In addition to delayed planting due to low temperatures, Myers said some farmers are taking a wait-and-see attitude on anhydrous ammonia application due to unseasonably late snowfall and moisture.