What Does Record Planting Mean for 2013?

Less margin for error this growing season means risk management is critical

Isn't it amazing how quickly the crop went in the ground this spring?  Almost 60% of our corn crop was planted in a two-week window of time.

USDA data suggested that farmers planted a record 41.8 million acres of corn in one week – between May 12 and 19. It broke the old record from 1992 for the most corn planted in a week by 7.7 million acres.

How did we break the record – even though there are fewer farming operations now? Our equipment is larger, we have more technology in our machines, and we can plant more hours of each day. In 1992, a 12-row planter was considered big. Now, 24 or 36-row planters are the larger models. An equipment dealer told me that most farmers have at least doubled their planter size since 1992.

We have this bigger machinery for a reason – and we saw the results of it this spring. It gives us the capacity to do things like put 43% of the corn crop in the ground in a single week when we need to. We have technology like GPS and auto steer because of this, too. We can do a good job planting, even during the late, dark hours when many farmers were working that week.

Flip side

There's a flip side to the way the corn crop went in this year. With a large part of it going in at the same time, things need to go as planned the rest of this growing season. It doesn't mean that we can't have a big crop this year, but there's less margin for error or problems.

It's possible that corn was planted on soil a day or two early. That could mean more compacted soil and shallower root systems, making the crop more susceptible to green snap.  The continuing rain and severe weather won't help that either.

The crop as a whole could be more vulnerable to periods of heat and dryness – especially during pollination, with a big portion of the crop pollinating around the same time.

We may still have a large crop this year. But if something doesn't go well during the growing season, especially during pollination, the large amount of planting that happened all at once will amplify the effects of bad conditions. It could give us a more widespread yield loss than usual. Keep an eye on your risk management plan and be ready to adjust things if conditions change.

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