Last week was the most productive planting week for Minnesota small-grain growers in 30 years. About half the expected barley and oats, two-thirds of the spring wheat and 64 percent of sugar beets have been planted.
Overall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the state’s farmers are two to four weeks ahead of last year’s planting, when one of the coldest winters in decades was followed by an unusually wet spring. Virtually nothing had been planted at this time last year.
USDA officials said that favorable conditions in recent weeks have allowed farmers to roll onto fields, apply fertilizer, spread manure, till fields and plant seeds.
Todd Geselius, vice president of agriculture at the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville, said beet planting in west-central Minnesota is two to three weeks ahead of normal, and four to five weeks ahead of last year.
Sugar beet growers have planted 90 percent of the nearly 125,000 acres in the cooperative, nearly all of it last week, he said.
“When you plant earlier, that does typically give you more opportunity for a bigger crop, but it also increases some of the risks,” Geselius said. The main concern is temperatures a few degrees below freezing that may kill emerging plants, he said, and some of that may happen with this week’s chilly weather.
“Some of our growers may have to replant a few acres if plants die because they were frosted off,” he said.
Corn requires warmer soils, but even that crop is 12 percent planted, more than two weeks ahead of last year, according the USDA estimates.
Northfield farmer and Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Bruce Peterson said he planted a small amount of corn last week, but is waiting for a warmer forecast to plant most of his crop.
“With the cold weather, we decided to wait and not plant any more because of concern about the germination of the corn [seeds],” he said.
Peterson said 2015 looks much better than the last two years, when lengthy winters and rainy spring weather kept many farmers waiting and contributed to a shorter growing season with lower yields.
One potential concern so far this year is in areas of the state that haven’t had much moisture, Peterson said, including southwest Minnesota and some farms northwest of the Twin Cities.
Jeff Coulter, corn specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension, said farmers are excited and optimistic because they’re able to plant early for the first time since 2012.
“There was quite a bit of corn that was planted late last week and over the weekend, and the soil was working up great,” he said.
Coulter said that for the most part, the yield of corn that was planted last week vs. the yield of corn that will be planted in the last week of April will be about the same. It’s generally when corn is planted later than the first week of May that yields begin to decline, he said.
“Getting the corn in on time, or early, is setting us up to have a potentially good year, assuming the weather cooperates,” Coulter said. “So up to this point, everything’s on our side.”