With squishy black dirt from a relatively snowless winter, Minnesota farmers could have planted corn crops last month — but didn't.

They wouldn't dare sow seeds before April 10, no matter how early spring arrived; the head start isn't worth it. That's because the latest USDA census puts this as "the earliest possible planting date" for most Minnesota farmers if they want to be covered by federal crop insurance, according to the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

Those living in the northernmost counties will need to wait until April 21.

Crop insurance, as many farmers will attest, doesn't make a farmer financially whole if a crop is partially lost in bad weather or market conditions. But the extra revenue can provide peace of mind and help pay down the costs of inputs, such as fertilizer or fuel or seed.

And farmers will take every penny this coming year.

In November, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve reported out increasing pessimism among farm country lenders, revealing a 35% year-over-year decrease in farmers' spending on machinery and property upgrades. Just last week, a much-watched survey on farm income revealed farm profits last year fell about 76% — from nearly $180,000 in 2022 to just over $44,000.

The common driver? Commodity prices are in the gutter. Corn on the Chicago Board of Trade dropped to $4.30 a bushel at latest read midday Tuesday. It's a precipitous drop from two years ago when corn flirted with $8. To add further dismay, last year, Brazil overtook American farmers as the top corn-producing nation in the world.

That's why favorable growing conditions this spring feel like a godsend to some growers.

Nick Peterson, a corn farmer from near Clear Lake in Sherburne County, is eyeing late April for planting.

Peterson said farmers are really starting to watch the sky for weather and check their soil for moisture.

"There's a little bit of snow within a day or two," said Peterson, who sits on the Minnesota Corn Growers Association Board of Directors. "But after this weekend, it's going to be bare fields."

The mild winter allowed some farmers into their fields early to spread fertilizer or haul manure.

Peterson spent last week selling seed and prepping his operations.

But nearly all corn farmers wait for that mid-April planting date to lay seed.

"I still think it's pretty cold," Peterson said. "We're going to need 60s here for a week before you'd bring things around to think about planting anything."

After a winter light on snow, the latest drought monitor from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports over 40% of the state still abnormally dry. A few days of rain will certainly alleviate that, however.

"On a scale of 1 to 100 with 1 being dry, it's somewhere right in the middle at 50," Peterson said. "There was some good recharge of snow that helped. It all seemed to soak right in. None of the ground was frozen."

And the warmer-than-average temperatures, according to USDA predictions, bode well for planting conditions.

"This is going to cause optimism for growers," said Dave Nicolai, a crops educator with the University of Minnesota Extension. "There is always this dance. We want the rain. But we want to get out in the field."

Corn is a crop that loves midsummer heat, right around the mid-80s. Even with forecasts showing southwestern Minnesota's Buffalo Ridge reaching into the 70s this weekend, the ground is still cooler, Nicolai said.

Some farmers, however, have managed to get into the fields.

According to Monday's USDA Crop Report for Minnesota, about 9% of the state's oats crop is in the ground. The five-year average for oats by this point in the season? Two percent.