Agronomy Dept., Purdue Univ.
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2054
The number of 30-, 40-, and 60-ft wide (or larger) field crop planters across the U.S. Midwest is greater today than, say, twenty years ago. Certainly, individual farmers can plant more acres of corn and soybean per day with today’s large field equipment than they could twenty years ago. This fact encourages optimism that planting season delays can be overcome by the capability of today’s modern planters to plant a greater percent of the state’s crop per week when “push comes to shove.”
As is often the case with “logical conclusions”, the historical data do not necessarily support the logic. Historical planting progress data suggest that the maximum number of acres of corn and soybean planted per week has not changed much over the past 20 years. The accompanying figures illustrate the number of acres and percent of total acres planted during the respective weeks of maximum planting progress for corn (Fig. 1), soybean (Fig. 2), and the two crops combined (Fig. 3) for Indiana during the past twenty years.
The greatest number of corn acres planted in a single week in Indiana during the past twenty years occurred in 2001 when 2.9 MILLION acres or 50% of the total acreage for that year were planted in a single week (Fig. 1). To most of us, such a planting pace borders on phenomenal. Since 2001, the closest Indiana farmers have come to matching that progress was during the 2014 planting season, when 41% of the total crop or 2.4 million acres were planting during a single week.
The most soybean acres planted in a single week in Indiana during the past twenty years also occurred in 2001 when 2.4 million acres or 42% of the total acreage for that year were planted in a single week (Fig. 2). Since then, the closest Indiana farmers have come to matching that progress was during the 2016 planting season, when 32% of the total crop or 1.8 million acres were planting during a single week.
Looking at the historical planting progress of each crop individually (Fig’s 1 and 2) suggests that little improvement has been made in our ability to plant a lot of crop acres quickly. Some have countered that the potential TOTAL number of combined crop acres planted per week has increased because farmers are increasingly planting soybean at the same time as they are planting corn, when historically soybean planting occurred near the end of corn planting. Well, that turns out to be a bit of “fake news”, also.
During the past twenty years in Indiana, the greatest number of corn AND soybean acres planted in a single week was also 2001 (no surprise), when 5.25 million acres of the two crops were planted in a single week, or 46% of the total number of corn and soybean acres planted that year (Fig. 3). During the past 20 years, the historical planting progress data suggests that the combined maximum weekly planting progress of the two crops has increased slightly, but not to any appreciable degree.
So, given the realities of ever larger planting equipment and the fact that farmers are frequently planting both crops at the same time these days, the conundrum is this… Why has the actual weekly planting progress of the two crops changed very little over the past 20 years? The answer does not appear to be related to changes in total crop acres planted in Indiana because that number has remained fairly constant in during that time period (Fig. 4).
One answer to the large planter vs. planting progress conundrum may be the fact that the number of corn and soybean growers in Indiana has decreased over time and those remaining are farming more acres than they did twenty years ago. Even though farm machinery is larger today and cover more acres per day than twenty years ago, fewer farmers are farming more acres and so total planting progress in terms of percent of total acres per week remains fairly unchanged. Coupled with that thought is the reality that weather and soil conditions dictate the number of days available during any given week for field work and planting.