The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Corn and Wheat Planting Delays

Corn and Wheat Planting Delays

Climate and Crops

May 25, 2009

Potentially reduced corn and wheat yields and production across the nation could result in higher food prices this fall.

Wet fields in portions of the Midwest and Northern Plains have had severely limited crop planting during the months of April and May. As of the May 20th USDA Crop Progress report, just 20% of corn in Illinois has been planted. Similar delays are ongoing to the east in Indiana as well. These two states make up 25% of US corn production. To put this in perspective, from 2004 to 2008, the second week of May featured statewide corn planting at 85% complete. 

The primary culprit behind the soggy fields has been well above normal precipitation since last winter began. Across northern Illinois and Indiana, the combination of heavy rain and snow over the past five months has produced nearly 20 inches of liquid across the region, nearly twice the normal amount in some locales.

Spring wheat planting is also suffering significant delays after a rainy fall and harsh winter, which lead to soggy fields after rapid snowmelt in North Dakota. The May 20th report revealed that just 31% of the crop has been planted compared to the recent average of 88%. This is a key development as the state accounts for nearly half of the United States spring wheat production. 

So what does this all mean for the crops? For spring wheat, any portion of the crop planted in the second half of May or beyond is subject to serious quality deterioration due to a subsequent delayed harvest. Such a situation can lead to crop diseases that would certainly downgrade quality. Furthermore, a late harvest leaves the wheat exposed to harsher elements as the fall arrives. Historically, the best northern spring wheat yields come from harvests completed in August.

For corn, the effects of delayed planting are highly dependent upon summertime weather. After a late corn planting in saturated soil, famers are hoping for a cool, wet summer across the Midwest. But if the summer turns hot and dry, recently planted corn will be more susceptible to severe moisture stress and reduced yields.

“When corn is planted into fields compacted with water, a hard crust will form that creates a barrier for developing roots, keeping them concentrated in a shallow layer near the surface. Shallow-rooted corn is unable to reach deep-layer moisture reserves, and deteriorates very quickly when summer rainfall slackens,” says StormX Agriculture Analyst Gail Martell.