Don’t look now. But spring might be here to stay after all, which finally means some good planting weather ahead.
This year’s planting is behind schedule in Pennsylvania, at least according to government statistics. Monday’s Crop Progress Report from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS, showed only 11 percent of the state’s corn crop was planted, well behind last year’s pace at the same time of 25 percent and behind the five-year average of 17 percent.
Some small grains are even further behind schedule. Oats are only 23 percent emerged, which is behind last year’s pace and the crop’s five-year average. And only 8 percent of the state’s barley crop is headed, which is also well behind schedule.
Unlike last year, when temperatures were downright tropical in March, spring has been slow to get going, with nighttime temperatures approaching the freezing mark on several occasions.
Extension educators say the next couple of weeks will be crucial if farmers hope to hit the optimum growth period for corn and soybeans.
John Rowehl, Extension educator based in York County, said he’s not yet concerned about yields.
“The long-term average will tell you that you should have all of the corn in by the beginning of May, the first week of May. But in any given year, it so happens that later plantings did better because of weather,” Rowehl said. “It all depends on weather in the summer. For the guys that don’t have that many acres to plant, they might get it in on time.”
Mena Hautau, Extension educator based in Berks County, said even with better seed genetics and technology, farmers usually shoot for around May 10 to get corn in the ground. Planting everything at the same time, though, is usually not recommended.
“Most people want to spread the pollination date out. You don’t want it to pollinate at the same time. It’s why you grow the different maturities, to stagger pollination,” Hautau said.
Jeff Graybill, agronomy Extension educator based in Lancaster County, said he’s seen very little planting get started other than sweet corn.
“It varies at lot across the county. But we really are behind, especially from last year,” he said.
Weatherwise, even though it’s been cool, Graybill said ground conditions are good, with timely rains and not overly abundant moisture. In some years, early corn has actually faired worse than the later stuff.
“The last two years in the northern end of the county, corn that was planted in April was the worst corn because of hot weather during pollination,” Graybill said.
Still, he hopes warmer weather will stick around for farmers to get caught up.
“If you don’t get your corn in by May 10, that means you’re going to have to harvest it several weeks later in the fall. That means you won’t get a cover crop in. So there is reason to do it early even if it won’t affect yield,” he said.
Tree fruit faced major challenges last season, as an exceptionally warm March led to early blooming, but cooler temperatures in late April and May damaged apples and peaches.
The NASS report shows apples are behind schedule, with only 27 percent of trees in full or past bloom, well behind last year’s pace of 96 percent and the five-year average of 69 percent.
Peaches on the other hand are right on schedule, along with cherries.
Lee Showalter, food safety manager and grower services manager at Rice Fruit Co., said he’s confident about the crop, even with apples off to a slow start.
“Things have been favorable for tree fruit development. Crop potential looks good at the moment. We could use a couple of days of nice clear weather for pollination. But there is no appreciable damage due to frost,” he said.