ST. LOUIS — Most years about this time, northern Illinois farmer Monty Whipple, like so many Midwest growers, would be riding high in his monstrous planter, kicking up dust while sowing corn in hundreds of acres. But this spring has kept him sidelined, and he's anything but alone.
Spring planting across much of the nation's Corn Belt is sputtering, foiled by rainy and chilly conditions that in broad stretches have left the ground either too soggy or too cold for effective seeding.
As of Sunday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says, just 3 percent of the U.S. corn crop was sown, half the dismal pace of last year, when one of the wettest springs on record got farmers in many states off to the slowest start in decades.
In Illinois, just 1 percent of this year's corn has been planted — one-tenth of the average pace of the previous five years. Farmers in other key corn-producing states — Iowa, Nebraska and Indiana — were equally idle, the USDA says. Missouri has 9 percent of its crop in the field, down from 16 percent this time a year ago.
Still, Whipple and other growers in Illinois and Missouri aren't sounding alarms, noting that today's bigger, more efficient planting machines can make up for lost time. Such was the case last year, when more than 40 percent of Illinois' corn crop got planted in just one week in mid-May. The USDA says corn sowing traditionally begins about this time, with that task typically in full swing from April 21 through May 23.
And the agency notes that even with last year's frustratingly slow start to planting, U.S. farmers still reaped a record 13.9 billion bushels of corn and the third-biggest soybean crop on record.
"There's really not any need to be concerned," Illinois Farm Bureau spokesman John Hawkins said.