Early planting has state’s corn crop looking strong

Published 12:51 pm Thursday, May 25, 2023

By Bonnie Coblentz
MSU Extension Service

Mississippi corn producers got off to an early start and have enjoyed mild spring weather in 2023, advantages that gave this year’s crop a good start.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that as of May 21, 98 percent of Mississippi’s corn was planted. To date, 69 percent is in good or excellent condition, with another 27 percent listed as fair.

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Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said that, for most of the state, below-normal rainfall in March and normal rainfall in April allowed the crop to get a slightly early start.

“Mississippi’s primary limitations for spring planting are normally abundant rainfall and wet soils, which restrict opportunities for tractors to plant crops,” Larson said. “Corn is generally more productive when it is planted early because it progresses through critical developmental stages when environmental conditions are more favorable.”

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates Mississippi producers intended to plant 700,000 acres of corn, up 21 percent from the 580,000 acres planted in 2022.

“Corn acreage was lower last year, so growers seeking to maintain crop rotation systems cycled more acreage back to corn this year,” Larson said. “Acreage is always affected by economics, and this year, nitrogen prices were also a little lower compared to last year.”

Since corn is a heavy nitrogen user, lower nitrogen prices made the crop more attractive to some growers.

Alex Deason, Extension agent in Sunflower County, said farmers in the south Delta were able to plant in three distinct, very tight windows this season.

“We have some early, early corn that was planted over about a day and a half in mid-March,” Deason said. “It struggled because it had a freeze and some cold and damp weather, but for the most part, it pulled out of it.”

The next planting window was a three-day span in late March to early April when area growers planted the vast majority of the south Delta crop. “These acres benefitted from numerous rains, and we haven’t had a flooding rainfall event for the most part, so that corn looks good,” he said.

The last planting window opened around April 10 and allowed area producers to finish planting all the corn acreage they intended. “The bulk of our crop is about a week or so earlier than normal,” Deason said. “That means we should have an early- to mid-June tassel time.”

Deason said a continuation of recent cool nights through tassel would be ideal. “On years when we have cool nights in the early part of the season, we often have higher-than-average yields,” he said. “When temperatures increase, it’s tougher for the corn plant to fill grain.”

Weather has allowed growers to apply fertilizer and herbicides when the corn has needed them, allowing the state’s crop to be well maintained up to this point in the season.

Will Maples, Extension agricultural economist, said fertilizer prices, which decreased from the record highs of 2022, made corn a more attractive crop to plant this year.

“Currently, the U.S. is projected to produce a record 15.3 billion bushels of corn, which is putting downward pressure on prices,” Maples said.

USDA projects the national average farm price to be $4.80 per bushel compared to the $6.60 per bushel average price of 2022.

“Overall demand is expected to be higher this year, with exports recovering due to lower prices,” he said. Any weather issues during the summer months can add volatility to the market.

“Producers need to review their marketing plans and ensure they have a plan in place to capture any weather rally in the market,” Maples said.