Although cool temperatures have limited the urge to plant, the past 2 days in the 80s have a lot of equipment moving now. Soil moisture conditions are generally good for planting, with more worry in some places about lack of rainfall over the past months than about its being too wet. Corn that we planted here on March 24 to test the polymer seed coating began to emerge on April 15 from uncoated seed but not yet from the coated seed. One of the "features" of soils worked and planted when they are dry enough is that they do not tend to form crusts easily, though they can if heavy rains are followed by dry, warm, windy conditions. After 3 weeks, there was no soil crusting in our early planted plots. Three weeks is not an excessive amount of time for corn seed to lie in the (cool) soil before emergence, as long as soil conditions are not excessively wet.
Of course, planting this early still carries the risk of a return to cold, wet conditions, which can affect not only emergence but can also, as we saw last year, result in some physiological effects on corn plants that may limit yield potential. One advantage this year has been the dry soil conditions, which mean that soil structure in planted fields will be better in most fields than it was last year. Even with a return to normal rainfall amounts, seeds planted in soil with good structure are better able to access air, less likely to suffer from crusting, and thus much better able to germinate and emerge from wet soils after planting than is corn planted into soils that were worked or planted when it was wet. While we can't know what's ahead for this crop, we have had better planting conditions so far in 2003 than we ever had in 2002.
The most common concern that I hear is from those areas where it has been much drier than normal over the past several months. Although figures from the Illinois State Water Survey show that soil water content across the state is not much lower than normal, there are pockets where soils are not fully recharged. Still, most of the water that has fallen since last fall is stored in the soil now, and crop use is only a few inches more than normal rainfall amounts from May through August. Hence a return to more normal rainfall amounts during the growing season should provide enough water for the crop, at least in most areas of the state.--Emerson Nafziger