It is hard to believe but we are losing February tonight and turning into March. In this part of Ontario winter so far has been kind, albeit I say that lightly because there are still three weeks of winter to go. The slow march to spring continues and won’t be long before corn planters are pulled out sheds across the land.
Of course there is much debate this year about how much corn will be planted in the United States especially with the problems we’ve had in the soybean market re the ongoing trade war with the US China. Last week USDA actually published some early estimates pegging US corn planted acres of 92 million and soybeans dropping down to 85 million acres. These February numbers from USDA are actual musings; we’ll have to wait till March 31st to get some official numbers to start the crop season off with a bang.
It was only a few years ago that I started attending corn-planting clinics. In this part of the country Kearney Planters of Turin Ontario is often the business that puts on a technical day regarding corn planters. In fact, in the past many seed corn companies have worked with Kearney planters to help growers get the most our of their planter. Your loyal scribe doesn’t count himself as a corn planter genius, so I try to get over to learn something. I’m never disappointed, I always learn a lot about planting corn.
Simply put, when it comes to corn planters they’ve come a long way. It is simply a coefficient of cost how much you want to spend on them. What kind of monitor do you want? Do you want row shutoffs? How about the type of down pressure for up pressure you might want on your openers? While we’re at it how about adding some electric meter drives to your corn planter and of course we all want to drive at 10 mph. What kind of return on investment will we get from all these tricked out planters?
I mention this because I heard a media report the other day that said winter is going to hang on in the American Midwest, which might result in a delay in corn planting come spring. This is an almost annual concern of the corn market, but seems to be more of a buzz phrase among agricultural market “regurgitate-ers”. Over a period of time I think we have proved that as farmers given the technology, we can put the crop in the ground in quite a hurry. With the new corn planter technological advances, I think we should put that to rest. The simple task of planting corn can have a huge impact on farmer’s bottom line and increasingly it’s done at lightning speed with equipment that does it better than ever before.
Every year is different, which can make corn planting quite challenging. For instance, I like to get out there anytime past April 20 if the land is fit to plant. Generally speaking, that means bigger yields come fall. After the DON debacle in corn in 2018 many farmers in southwestern Ontario are hoping for better luck this season. There are a myriad of opinions and research going on in Ontario right now to try to mitigate any future DON outbreak in Ontario corn.
Of course, there are other players that need to chime in too. We can do all kinds of research to mitigate DON in Ontario corn, but we also need a plan B for corn like I talked about a few weeks ago. The Ontario Minister of Agriculture needs to enhance the crop insurance plan to cover DON infections. Discounts by end users, which are 9.5X higher in Ontario vs. Michigan needs to be stopped. So far the Minister shows no signs of dealing with that.
Not lost in this are future Ontario corn acres. With $200/tonne corn ready for the taking in Eastern Ontario, you’d think with the way things are, Ontario should plant 2.1 million acres of corn this year, with soybeans again topping 3 million. Demand for corn has been strong out of the province, partly thru exports to Europe under an enhanced CETA, but also because we process 35% of our corn into ethanol. That Ontario ethanol mandate has been further enhanced to 10%, so its all good. We just need to keep that DON under control.
That will depend largely on summer weather, which seems like eons away now, especially with snow and subzero temperatures stalking the land. Needless to say, summer weather will have a lot to say this year regarding US crop size stocks and of course price. Everybody wants to be bullish corn, but unfortunately, it’s still hard to make a good case for it. In the meantime we prepare for spring planting. With all those corn planter attachments, we’ll need a little bit of faith too.