U.S. farmers notch best planting week of 2014

CHICAGO (Reuters) — U.S. farmers seeded 30 percent of their corn acreage during the past week, putting them ahead of the typical pace, as a window of dry weather allowed farmers in major production states such as Iowa, Illinois and Indiana to make huge advances in the field.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s weekly crop progress and conditions report, released on Monday afternoon, showed that the pace of planting topped market expectations.

The past week’s activity put farmers back on schedule after weeks of delays resulting from wet soil conditions and cool temperatures.

USDA said corn planting was 59 percent complete as of May 11, up from 29 percent a week earlier and one percentage point ahead of the average mid-May pace from 2009 to 2013.

In Iowa, which is typically the biggest corn producer, 70 percent of the crop was planted, a 47 percent jump from a week earlier. Seeding in Illinois advanced to 78 percent from 43 percent and to 61 percent from 20 percent in Indiana.

“Producers spent long days in the field making up for time lost due to the previous week’s wet conditions,” the Illinois Field Office of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said in a report.

NASS’s Iowa field office said conditions in that state were “optimal” during the past week.

Farmers aim to have most of their corn planted by the middle of May, so the crop will be mature enough to withstand the scorching temperatures that hit in the Midwest in July. Corn that pollinates during the hottest part of the summer often suffers from reduced yields at harvest.

Soybean planting was 20 percent complete, up 15 percentage points from last week and one percentage point behind the five-year average. A year ago, soybean planting was five percent complete.

Analysts had expected corn planting to be 55 percent complete and soybean planting 17 percent.

Rainstorms hit the Midwest on Sunday and Monday, but the region was expected to dry out for much of the next week, which should provide farmers with more opportunities to plant.

“Most areas see at least a week of dry weather after this event to aid fieldwork,” Commodity Weather Group said in a note on Monday.

Dry conditions in the U.S. Plains weighed on he health of the winter wheat crop in that key growing region.

USDA said 30 percent of the winter wheat crop was rated good to excellent, down one percentage point from a week earlier and the lowest for this time of year since 1996. The rating matched analysts’ expectations. The crop was rated 32 percent good to excellent a year ago.

But analysts said some beneficial rains that fell in parts of Kansas, the largest producer of hard red winter wheat, overnight may have improved crop health there. Western areas of the Plains remain dry.