Corn planting delays improve market, but challenges seed industry
As the slow planting pace throughout much of the top corn producing states remains unprecedented, the impact could be felt for years to come if corn seed growers are unable to plant large amounts of their anticipated acres.
In the short term, corn prices continued to rally as planting pace limped along the past week, offering a selling opportunity for growers who had their crop planted or those comfortable in marketing a crop still in the planter or seed bag.
Corn futures hit nearly a 12-month high last week and some Mid-Atlantic elevators posted futures prices for December delivery in the $4.40 to $4.70 per bushel range..
USDA’s Crop Progress Report released May 28 shows U.S. corn planting for the top 18 corn producing states is 58 percent complete, up from 49 percent last week but far behind the five-year average of 90 percent.
Corn planting was just 35 percent, 22 percent, and 76 percent complete in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa, respectively. In the last five years, the crop in those states was 95, 85, and 96 percent complete by this time.
“It’s kind of uncharted territory for a lot of people,” said James Snavely, a Peru, Ind., cattle and grain farmer and salesman for Augusta Seed in five midwestern states. “I’m hearing the same story no matter who I talk to.”
Snavely said consistent rains and extended cool temperatures has kept many fields saturated and unfit to plant. More storms passed through the region last week.
“Because we’ve been so saturated, with a quarter or half inch of rain, you could have water standing in your fields,” Snavely said.
Along with delays in planting corn for grain, Brian Walsh, key account lead for corn genetics at Greenleaf Genetics, said the delays are a widespread challenge for corn seed growers too, felt most accutely in the eastern Corn Belt states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and others.
Estimating that about 30 to 40 percent of the corn seed industry’s crop still has to be planted, he said sandier ground or land with tile drainage has been easier to travel on and plant which has added importance with seed corn’s staggered planting of female then male inbreds for better pollination.
“Drainage has just been a huge factor is whether or not they get planted,” Walsh said.
The long delays have many grain farmers exchanging the hybrids they initially bought with longer maturities for those maturing in a shorter time, seedsmen said.
The risk farmers take in that switch, not that they have much choice, is compressing the timeframe for pollination.
Hot dry conditions in that shortened period can greatly hinder production, Snavely said.
A large shift to shorter maturity hybrids could have a ripple effect, Walsh said, pulling from inventory designated for the 2020 crop year.
“It becomes a bit of an inventory challenges from that perspective,” Walsh said. “The effects of this spring could be felt for the next year or two.”
Switching hybrids is less of an option for seed growers, if one at all, said Dennis Rawley, owner of Augusta Seed, which typically spreads its seed production across Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Rawley said the concern with planting this late is pushing back the crop’s pollination into what’s often a hot, dry period of summer.
Another concern is running into a frost at harvest time which could deal a blow to the seed’s germination.
“We play in a world of extremes,” Rawley said. “We’ve had heat before but the one that really scares us is the frost.
“There’s just so many different ways that you can get in trouble.”
Rawley said emphatically that he’s not concerned about a seed shortage in coming years and was working with growers in Nebraska to add more acres of seed production.
Walsh said many companies are exploring other parts of the United States for getting seed planted and larger companies may increase winter production in South America if necessary but that comes with its own risks as well.
“Then it’s a race to get it conditioned and packaged to and back out to the farmers for the next crop year,” Walsh said. “Each year offered a different challenge.”
Walsh noted, like most farmers the resilience of corn seed producers should not be underestimated.
“Their committed to their costumers and giving them the best product they can,” he said.
Walsh said many corn seed growers can plant into the second week of June and still come away with a reasonable crop. But as days continue to pass on the calendar, growers have to confront the decision of switching the acres to soybeans or filing for Prevented Planting crop insurance option, a deadline that has passed in some areas already.
Snavely said he’s planted corn in June in past years and had good results. Raising cattle, he’s also the end use for some of his production.
“Personally, I’m not worried about it,” he said. “My crop will go in regardless of what the calendar says.”
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