INDIANAPOLIS - Persistent rains and wet fields kept most Indiana farmers on the sidelines again last week, unable to plant corn as the optimum planting season for the state's top crop slips away.
As of Sunday, just 8 percent of Indiana's corn crop was in the ground -- up from 1 percent the week before but still far behind the five-year average of 41 percent, according to the federal government's weekly crop report.
Indiana's corn planting is now 26 days behind last year and 20 days behind the five-year average.
"At this rate we'll have planting done by September," joked Chris Hurt, a Purdue University agricultural economist. "We're not making much progress."
This spring is Indiana's slowest start to planting corn since 2011, when only 4 percent of the corn crop was in the ground by early May. That year, yields were about 10 percent below normal.
But in 2009, when just 5 percent of the corn crop had been planted by early May, a cool summer with adequate rainfall followed and the state's corn yields were about 8 percent above average, giving Indiana record high corn yields, Hurt said.
"It's still up to the weather in the summer and fall, but the odds that we will have below normal yields are certainly increased by late planting," he said.
The prime planting window to maximize corn yields in Indiana is generally between April 20 and May 10.
Indiana farmers are expected to plant 6.3 million acres of corn this spring, but some may switch to soybeans if they can't plant their fields until late May, Hurt said. Others may switch to faster-maturing corn varieties that also will have smaller yields.
Much of Indiana's cropland remains too wet and muddy to support planting equipment, but dry weather is forecast for Indiana next week, said Ken Scheeringa, the Purdue-based associate state climatologist. He said temperatures next are expected to rise into the 60s and then the 70s, and that will help dry out fields.
"This could be the break that farmers have been waiting for," he said.
But even when drier conditions return, many farmers will still face field-tilling and weed control work before they can actually start planting, said Andrea Brown, Carroll County's associate educator with the Purdue Extension Service.
"It's not just as simple as pulling the planter out and `Let's go!' time. They may have tillage or some weed control to get done before they get the planter out and in the fields," she said.
The weekly crop report said that by area, 7 percent of the corn has been planted in Indiana's northern counties, 6 percent of corn was planted in the central counties and 15 percent of corn was in the ground in the south. Only a small number of soybean fields have been planted so far, but that crop -- Indiana's second-largest -- can be planted well into June.