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Cold, wet weather puts farmers behind their planting schedule

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WORTHINGTON -- It does snow in late April -- even in early May, for that matter -- but for those of us who have endured a seemingly endless winter, it's time for spring to, well, spring.

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That sentiment rings especially true for farmers, who await cooperation from Mother Nature to provide a series of long days filled with sunshine.

The weekly crop-weather report issued by the Minnesota Field Office of the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service on Monday showed just 1 percent of total corn acreage in the state had been planted, and only 3 percent of corn ground was ready for seed as of Sunday.

The totals fall well short of work accomplished by this time a year ago, as well as the five-year average of 27 percent of corn acres planted and 41 percent of corn ground worked.

While the weekly report puts the state about two weeks behind in planting for the five year average, farmers shouldn't rush to get the crop in the ground unless soil conditions improve.

"When the conditions are too wet, there's not much you can do about it," said Lizabeth Stahl, crop specialist at the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Center in Worthington. "You want to plant when the soil conditions are right. It's just too cold, and it's too wet right now."

Doug Anton was working up the outer rows of a field south of Worthington Tuesday afternoon -- his first time in the field with the digger this planting season.

"I think the ground conditions have been fit, but when it freezes at night, it just takes too long to dry off," he said, adding he hoped to get some corn planted in the afternoon.

"When it gets around the first of May, you get a little nervous," Anton said.

Stahl said a U of M study on the long-term (38-year) average of corn yields in the state shows 100 percent optimum corn yields are attainable when seed is planted by April 25. The optimum then drops to 99 percent if planted by April 30; 97 percent by May 5; and 94 percent by May 10.

"If we can get in (the fields) within a week or two, I still think we're set up for some decent yields," she said. "I just hope the weather will turn around."

With rain in the forecast for Thursday, and the potential for showers through Saturday, it doesn't appear farmers will get much accomplished this week.

"If you look at the calendar, we're still looking not bad yet," Stahl said. "Things should warm up. We could be sitting at 80-degree weather in a week."

The trouble with getting seed in the ground when it's still cold and wet is that the seed could rot, or soil compaction could lead to poor root development.

"You want to avoid any sidewall compaction," Stahl said. "It affects the plants' ability to take up nutrients or water, and that can haunt you the rest of the year."

Cool, wet springs have been prevalent in recent years, and Stahl said farmers know from experience that corn will sit in the ground for a couple of weeks without any seedling activity if the soil temperature isn't warm enough.

"The seed really doesn't have any activity for germination until you get at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit," she said. "Typically, a poor stand planted early yields better than a great stand planted late."

Still, for those farmers who did get some seed in the ground last week, Stahl recommends they check the seed for rotting.

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