April weather has put a damper on the optimism brought on by a summer-like stretch in late March, and that damper has many farmers across southern Ontario questioning the value of early planting for corn.
At the bi-weekly meeting here, crop advisors, dealers and provincial ministry extension personnel debated the merits of going early on corn fields or waiting for another week to 10 days.
There are a number of concerns affecting planting decisions at this stage of the month; although the mentality in the country is, "if the ground is fit, you go!" there is a concern that damaging frosts — untimely to some but normal for the time of year — will affect emerging corn plants. Couple that with the fact that corn seed is at a shortage, limiting the prospect of replants, and that has many producers questioning the validity of planting too early.
The prospect — or lack — of measurable or beneficial rains in the past two weeks has many advisors favouring a more cautious approach.
Many at the meeting in Exeter remarked that most fields they had noticed two weeks earlier that were tilled or sprayed were largely the same on Tuesday: no new activity and little evidence that a planter had been on them.
That doesn’t mean farmers are not getting on their fields or avoiding planting their corn. Several advisors suggested that in spite of estimates of five to 10 per cent of corn planted in most areas, the actual numbers are likely higher.
Two other advisors, one from Oxford County and the other from south Huron, estimated their farmers have as much as 25 per cent of their corn in the ground. Another advisor said the most commonly uttered phrase that he’s heard is "Once I start, I won’t be able to stop."
Still, that optimism has to be measured against the observation from one of the provincial ministry staff on hand. According to a report he’d received, one corn field in sandier soil in Norfolk County, south of Woodstock, had been planted in late March. With its seedlings emerged, it had been severely burned by frost.
Of course the other crop of concern with this "on-again, off-again" weather pattern is winter wheat, with the impacts of frost and also the recent lack of rainfall.
Wheat fields across much of the region are beginning to show signs of stress, including yellowing in the leaves. But of equal consequence is frost burning the leaf tips, compounded by applications of 28 per cent.
One advisor noted that some of the earlier-planted wheat is now at GS 31, and that continued cold could translate into shorter heads. He also indicated spring wheat acres in the prime regions of Ontario are up, as much as 15 to 20 per cent higher.
The other primary impact on wheat fields is weed control. The good news with this cooler weather, despite slowing farmers in their herbicide applications, is that growth in weeds has also slowed, somewhat. But dandelions are beginning to blossom, meaning they’re reaching a point where they’re harder to control.
In spite of research findings, farmers should likely wait for warmer conditions — daytime and nighttime — before applying formulations such as Estaprop to control dandelion.
Anecdotally, there was also talk of some of the tougher-looking wheat fields that are due for plowdown or a burndown treatment. And between Exeter and the town of St. Marys, there was one wheat field that had been sprayed, exhibiting colouration that one advisor referred to as "Roundup Gold."
In other reports, word is that annual weeds are also on the rise; one field north of London had lamb’s quarters at the third-leaf stage. Another dealer from a co-operative in Huron County reported that edible bean plantings are expected to be up, this year.
And on the topic of swing acres, the consensus was that much of the decision-making on which crop will depend on timing. If it continues to be "early" in conventional terms, then farmers will continue to favour corn; there was very little discussion about soybeans at Tuesday’s meeting.
— Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont.