The dry spring has given Minnesota's $9 billion crop-farming industry perfect planting weather.
Steve Kramer farms in southern Minnesota and said it's one of the best starts he's ever seen.
"It's probably been one of the nicest springs I can remember," Kramer said. "We're done with the corn and sugar beets, finished last Friday."
Kramer's rapid progress has been repeated in farm fields all across the state. Minnesota farmers have already planted almost 90 percent of their spring wheat. The average for this time of year is 14 percent. Nearly two-thirds of the corn crop is in the ground, about four times the average for late April. That marks the best spring planting progress in Minnesota since 2004.
Across the United States, about half of the corn crop has been planted. Sparse rainfall has kept fields dry and allowed farmers to spend most days working the soil.
BIG PROFITS AREN'T A SURE THING
But the quick progress doesn't mean a bumper crop or even a profitable year are sure bets.
Doug Hartwig, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Minnesota statistics office, said some rain fell in most parts of the state last week, but with concerns about drought looming, farmers are looking for more.
"Producers, I'm sure, would like to see a little more rain," Hartwig said. "That would help with the germination of the crops that have been planted and also the growth of the crops of those that have been emerged."
The heaviest rain last week fell in southern Minnesota, where Pipestone recorded just over an inch. But in northern Minnesota where forest fires along with crop germination is a concern, only light precipitation was recorded. No rain fell in several locations including Crookston, Staples and International Falls.
EARLY START SLASHED GRAIN PRICES
The good start to spring planting in Minnesota and across the country is having an impact on grain prices. As seeds drop in the fields, prices are falling as well. Kramer said grain traders think the early start is a harbinger of the harvest.
"They expect that an early planting means that there will be a big crop and that they don't need to have much of a premium in there for uncertain weather this summer," Kramer said. "So they've been dialing the price back."
The drop in grain prices is a concern. Current corn prices are below the cost of production for most farmers, having tumbled nearly 20 percent since January. Minnesota's corn crop is worth about $4 billion, a loss in value of almost $1 billion. But Kramer said the grain traders could be wrong as a lot can happen between now and the fall harvest.
If bad weather hits the United States or even in another country, yields could be smaller than expected. That decline in supply would drive prices higher.
If bad weather compromises Minnesota's crop, the state's head start on planting might lead only to a plunge over a financial cliff. But bad weather that hurts farmers elsewhere could leave the state's farmers with a big crop and better prices.