U.S. farmers are making the most of break in the seemingly unceasing spring rains to plant corn, though the pace still remains well behind schedule, the latest federal figures showed Monday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in its weekly update of the nation's crop progress, said 28 percent of U.S. cornfields have been planted, more than double the 12 percent of just a week earlier. But the numbers were nothing like last year, when 85 percent of the corn was planted because of an early spring. And this year falls well short of the 65 percent of the crop that already was in the ground by this date over the previous five years.
Corn sowing continues to lag across the nation's breadbasket. Iowa, the nation's largest corn producer, has just 15 percent of its crop planted, less than one-fifth of the pace of the previous five years. Illinois farmers have sown just 17 percent of their crop, while 43 percent of Nebraska's corn is in the ground.
Not surprisingly, the amount of the fledgling corn to emerge has languished. Fewer than 5 percent of the corn plants in most mid-America states have sprouted, a figure that is typically at least 25 percent and more often above 30 percent.
Farmers face a narrowing window to get the corn planted. While May often is considered the ideal month for sowing corn and waiting much longer may force growers to consider scaling back the amount of corn acreage. That would mean turning their focus to soybeans, which can be planted later, have a shorter growing season and proved more resilient to last year's punishing drought.
The later the planting, the greater the likelihood yields will suffer from the time lost in the growing season. There are corn varieties that mature faster -- nearly 30 days in some cases -- but the shorter the time to maturity again means a lesser yield.
Still, the USDA has remained bullish on this year's corn prospects, noting in a report last Friday that farmers are still likely to bring in a record amount: 14.1 billion bushels over more than 97.3 million acres planted. That's a billion bushels more than the previous record set in 2009.