For area farmers, is it already time to sow? Close.

For area farmers, is it already time to sow? Close.

CHAMPAIGN — With the unseasonably warm spring weather, farmers are motivated to start planting.

"They've got their equipment preparation. They're putting on some nitrogen fertilizer, preparing their fields," said Howard Brown, Illini FS manager of nutrient stewardship. "Just anticipating, getting everything lined up."

Steve Hettinger, who farms south of Philo, said, "Some guys just want to see if their tractor works before game day."

But most farmers won't start planting corn until April 5 at the earliest, and probably not until a couple weeks later, based mostly on factors outside their control.

That date was chosen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency as the early plant date for crop insurance products. Most farmers have crop insurance, and if they plant corn before April 5 and soybeans before April 20, they risk not getting reimbursed for crop damage.

"If your crop is planted before that, then you're not covered," Hettinger said. "You can if you want, but you're at risk. Most of the time, that's pretty doggone early. The earliest we've started is the 7th. I talked to one farmer, he just waits till the 15th no matter what."

Todd Weitekamp, who works for agriculture startup Agrible and farms near Fisher, said farmers probably won't start planting for about a month.

"The calendar tells us to start growing corn in mid-April to the third week of April," he said.

This is also based on more factors farmers can't control: weather, and specifically, the soil temperature and moisture.

"If the soil's too wet and you decide to go out and work the ground, that can compact the soil," Weitekamp said.

Compact soil can lead to uneven emergence and other issues, he said.

Lin Warfel, who farms near Tolono, said he waits until the soil temperature at 4 inches deep is around 52 degrees.

"If it's cooler than that, corn doesn't like to sprout," he said.

If the seed does sprout when it's too cold, "then it won't grow very fast," Brown said, making it susceptible to organisms that prey on the seed. "It gives them more time to cause more problems."

Once the soil conditions are right, it's up to farmers to decide when to plant.

"They have to rely on years of experience," Brown said.

The timing can make a big difference.

"If you plant when conditions are not fit and you make a mistake, the mistake carries with you all the way to harvest," Brown said.

The spring weather has been good so far, Weitekamp said, though it's too early to predict the entire season's weather.

But he said he's eager to start planting.

"You spend a lot of time planning for that day when you go to the field," he said. "That's when the growing season kicks off, and that's where the fun is."

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