AMES, Iowa – As planting ramps up in corn and soybean fields across the state, Iowa State University agricultural experts are available to comment on the storylines and trends that will shape the 2017 growing season.
Chad Hart, associate professor of economics and grain markets specialist
Hart said commodity prices going into this year’s planting season have improved compared to a year ago, leading to “cautious optimism” among producers. Hart said soybean prices have improved between 50 cents and a dollar per bushel over the spring of 2016, and corn prices have risen 10 to 15 cents over last year. The bump in prices resulted from expanded demand from ethanol and livestock producers as well as growing international demand.
But Hart said he doesn’t expect a full rebound in prices due to massive supplies that have piled up as a result of big harvests each of the last few years.
“Farmers are approaching their fields with better prices than what they were a year ago,” Hart said. “The challenge this year with the number of acres we’re expecting is that more huge supplies will put downward pressure on prices for the near term.”
A full recovery from the low prices of recent years most likely will require a reduction in supplies, he said.
“Farmers are seeing big demand, but we’ve been meeting that demand with big supplies,” Hart said. “Demand continues to grow, but we know that it’s going to take supplies getting a little smaller somewhere for prices to really improve.”
Recent USDA projections predicted a shift in acres toward soybeans in 2017. That’s because low prices in recent years have tightened profit margins, making soybeans increasingly attractive because of their lower seed and fertilizer costs, Hart said.
Mark Licht, assistant professor of agronomy and cropping systems agronomist for ISU Extension and Outreach
Licht said most years provide Iowa farmers a roughly eight-week window for planting corn and soybeans that begins in late April. Planting usually peaks in early May, when farmers statewide may plant 1.5 million acres in a day.
But Licht said farmers base the timing of planting on a number of factors, not just what the calendar says.
“It’s not date dependent,” Licht said. “It’s a combination of date, plus soil moisture, soil temperature and the five-day forecast.”
Licht said soil moisture across much of the state looks adequate, and soil temperatures in the vast majority of counties have surpassed the 50-degree mark, the threshold at which soil is warm enough for planting. But he still urged farmers to pay close attention to the five-day forecast before hitting the fields. A cold snap, especially one combined with precipitation immediately after planting, could hurt yields later in the year, he said.
Germination occurs during the first handful of days after a corn seed is planted, making that period of time critical to the crop’s development, Licht said.
Elwynn Taylor, professor of agronomy, who studies the effects of weather on agriculture
Taylor said adequate soil moisture and temperatures at this point in the year may point to strong yields at the end of the growing season, but it’s too soon to make many predictions. As prevailing high and low pressure systems take shape over the next few weeks, meteorologists will gain better insight into what farmers can expect for precipitation and sunshine during the growing season, he said.
Warm, spring-like temperatures at the end of February and early March may cause headaches for some farmers during the growing season, Taylor said.
“That warm weather could give a head start to weeds, disease and insect pests,” Taylor said. “So there may be some concern about that in some quarters, but those are problems farmers have a lot of experience with.”
El Nino and La Nina, warming and cooling patterns in the Pacific Ocean that often affect weather in the Midwest, appear to be sitting on the sidelines this year, Taylor said. A strong localized El Nino is contributing to increased precipitation in South America, but the system is too small to influence conditions in Iowa, he said.
Taylor said he’ll keep an eye on the Pacific decadal oscillation, or a climate pattern that affects the temperatures of the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Alaska. The oscillation can drive warm winds out of the western United States. Such westerly winds could lead to drier than usual conditions in the western half of Iowa and affect crop development, he said.