Late winter storm delays planting season

By Kent Thiesse

For the second year in a row, a late winter storm in mid-April has pushed back spring fieldwork in the Upper Midwest.

Normally by the third week of April, Midwest farmers have either begun fieldwork or are within days of beginning planting. However, in 2019, just as in 2018, a major April storm with high amounts of snowfall, freezing rain and other precipitation hit Minnesota and surrounding states. Now with more rainfall likely, it appears that it could be May 1st or later before full-scale fieldwork begins in many areas of the region.

The heaviest snowfall amounts occurred in parts of west central and southwest Minnesota, along with adjoining areas of eastern South Dakota. While other areas of southern Minnesota had lower snowfall totals, these regions also dealt with a severe ice storm that caused major power outages and poor road conditions along with tree and property damage.

Most areas of the Western Corn Belt have totally saturated soils which will require extra days of drying before being fit for fieldwork. One piece of good news in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, compared to a year ago, is that most of the frost is out of the ground and April temperatures have been warmer.

Early corn planting in the Upper Midwest is usually one of the key factors to achieving optimum corn yields. Crop research by universities and private seed companies indicates that the ideal planting window for corn for the area is typically April 20 to May 10. Actual dates vary based on conditions, however, and good corn yields can still be achieved when planting extends into mid-May, such as what happened in 2017

Crop consultants and agronomists are encouraging producers to be patient once the snow melts and the topsoil begins to dry out before initiating fieldwork. Tilling fields too early can result in poor seedbeds and than ideal planting conditions, which can lead to crop emergence problems. Even though corn planting dates may be later than desired, it may be prudent to wait a few extra days to begin corn planting for optimum field conditions. Research shows that 50 percent corn emergence will occur in 20 days at an average soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is reduced to only 10 days with an average soil temperature of 60 degrees F. Hopefully, warmer soil temperatures in May will result in improved early season growing conditions.

Based on the March 1st USDA Planting Intentions Report, Minnesota crop producers are expected to plant 8 million acres of corn and 7.3 million acres of soybeans in 2019. Iowa farmers are projected to plant 13.6 million acres of corn and 9.4 million acres of soybeans. Most farm operators will likely not switch intended 2019 corn acres to soybeans, unless corn planting dates get extended into late May or beyond. By April, producers typically have made arrangements for seed, fertilizer, and other crop inputs for the growing season, so they are likely to continue with their planned crop acres for the year.

2019 spring wheat acreage in the U.S is projected at 12.83 million acres, which includes 6.7 million acres in North Dakota, 1.53 million acres in Minnesota, and just over 1 million acres in South Dakota. If the spring wheat planting dates are extended much beyond May 1 in the primary growing areas, some of those intended spring wheat acres may be switched to soybean acres for 2019.

Historically, early planting dates for corn usually leads to higher than normal state average corn yields in Minnesota. In fact, in seven of the nine years that 50 percent or more of the state’s corn acres have been planted in April, Minnesota has set a record corn yield. This included the record corn yields of 194 bushels per acre in 2017, 193 bushels per acre in 2016 and 188 bushels per acre in 2015. In 2017, after some favorable planting conditions during the third week of April, the corn planting percentage was at 57 percent on April 30.

Given the current field conditions and weather conditions in mid-April, it may be difficult to achieve a record corn yield in 2019 in many areas of the Upper Midwest, unless field conditions in the region improve dramatically in the next few weeks. Most producers in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa are hoping that we do not have a repeat of the 2018 growing season, when persistent above normal precipitation throughout the spring and summer lead to very poor corn yields in many areas. Some producers in south central and southwest Minnesota had their lowest corn yields in over two decades in 2018.

Most Midwest crop producers are facing very tight profit margins in 2019. Any significant reductions in crop yields for the year below the projected yields for a given farm operation, unless there are improved crop prices, will cause major financial issues for many farm operations by the end of the year. Improved spring planting conditions in the next 4-5 weeks will be critical to crop yields and crop profitability in 2019 for Upper Midwest farm operators.

This is especially true with new and younger farm operators, as well as children who decide to start farming with their parents. Some investors now operate farms themselves rather than cash renting, thus hiring a farm operator under a custom farming agreement.

Some farm operators also hire specific farm operations through custom arrangements, such as combining, grain hauling or hay baling. Many farm operators negotiate these custom rates and custom farming arrangements in the spring; others wait until after harvest.

Even though fuel prices were fairly stable in the past year, higher labor costs—together with custom operators trying to more fully cover their expenses—has resulted in slightly higher anticipated average custom rates for 2019.

Average custom rates for tillage, planting, and harvest operations in 2019 are expected to increase by slightly over 7 percent compared to 2018. Custom farming rates for corn and soybeans are also expected to increase by about 9 percent. The cost for new and used machinery increased slightly 2018, which is another factor in the higher anticipated custom rates for 2019.

These results are based on the annual “Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey” from Iowa State University. The survey sampled 532 custom operators and farm managers on what they expected 2019 custom farm rates to be for various farm operations. There were 121 useable surveys returned. The survey summary lists the average custom rate, as well as a range, for various tillage, planting, fertilizer and chemical application, grain harvesting, and forage harvesting functions on the farm. The survey also includes many miscellaneous farming practices, average per hour farm labor rates, some machinery rental rates, including a formula for calculating rental rates. The survey lists the average custom farming rates for corn, soybeans and small grain.

Average 2019 farm custom rates for some typical tillage, planting, and harvesting practices, as well as custom

farming rates, are listed in the following table. The average custom rates for farm operations in southern and western Minnesota, as well as most other areas of the Upper Midwest, tend to be very close to the average Iowa custom rates.

All listed custom rates in the Iowa survey results include fuel, labor, repairs, depreciation, insurance, and interest, unless listed as rental rates or otherwise specified. The average price for diesel fuel was assumed to be $2.94 per gallon. A fuel price increase of $.50 per gallon would cause most custom rates to increase by approximately five percent. These average rates are only meant to be a guide for custom rates, as actual custom rates charged may vary depending on continued increase in fuel costs, availability of custom operators, timeliness, field size, etc.

Following are the median (adjusted average) custom rates for some common farming practices for 2019, based on the “Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey”:

Custom Farming Rates:

(Includes tillage, planting and harvesting costs)

Corn ————   $132.25 per acre (Range = $80.00 – $225.00)  
Soybeans ——-  $121.20 per acre (Range = $75.00 – $210.25)
Small Grain —-  $118.35 per acre (Range = $100.00 – $140.00)


Moldboard Plow ———-   $20.20 per acre
Chisel Plow —————-   $18.35 per acre
Disk/Chisel —————-   $19.70 per acre
V-Ripper (deep tillage) —  $23.45 per acre
Field Cultivator ————  $16.00 per acre
Tandem Disk —————  $15.40 per acre
Chopping Cornstalks ——  $12.40 per acre

Planting and Spraying:

Planter With Attachments ——-  $21.80 per acre (Extra charges for GPS, seed shutoffs, etc.)
Planter Without Attachments —  $20.40 per acre
No-Till Planter ——————–  $22.90 per acre
Soybean Drill ———————   $19.10 per acre
Grain Drill ————————-  $18.35 per acre
Crop Spraying (broadcast) ——- $ 7.65 per acre (self-propelled sprayer)

Harvesting Grain:

Corn Combine ——————-  $35.95 per acre ($41.35 with Chopper Head)
                                                                                   ($54.10 per acre with Grain Cart & Truck)

Soybean Combine ————–   $35.10 per acre ($38.50 with Draper Head)
                                                                             ($51.55 per acre with Grain Cart & Truck)

Small Grain Combine ———-  $31.90 per acre
Corn Grain Cart (in Field) —–  $6.55 per acre
Soybean Grain Cart (in Field) –  $5.75 per acre
Hauling Grain (5 mi. or less) —  $0.10 per bushel
Hauling Grain (5-25 mi.) ——-  $0.16 per bushel
Grain Auger Use (On Farm) —  $0.06 per bushel

Harvesting Forages:

Windrowing Hay ———————-  $15.40 per acre
Hay Baling (Small Square Bales) —  $0.68 per bale
Hay Baling (Large Square Bales) —  $10.95 per bale
Hay Baling (Large Round Bales) —  $12.35 per bale ($13.05 per bale with wrap)
Corn Stalk Baling (Large Bales) —-  $12.35 per bale ($13.60 per bale with wrap)
Haylage Chopping ——————— $ 8.40 per ton
Silage Chopping ———————–  $ 6.75 per ton

For additional information email Kent Thiesse, Farm Management Analyst and Senior Vice President, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal at  
To subscribe to BankWise for weekly Ag Lending News updates email Kristi Ploeger or call 651-789-3997. 

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