Monster machines fan out on U.S. farms facing slow sow
"Farmers are sitting on a lot of great years," said Darwin Melnyk, chief executive of IRON Solutions, referring to profitable harvests. "We've seen them invest a lot in their farming operations, including more land and certainly equipment."
Coming off a year in which planting finished early, only to see young crops whither in the drought, investors want to see how the crop develops after planting before making any judgments on yield potential, said Nicole Thomas, a partner for McKeany-Flavell Co, which has advised companies like General Mills Inc and Kraft Foods Group Inc about commodity costs.
The United States is expected to see a "pretty substantial" increase in corn inventories even if yields are cut by planting delays, she said. The reason: An increase in yield after last year's drought and another year of massive plantings.
A rush to plant can set the stage for havoc in the markets, though, because haste creates risks of its own. Corn planted in soil that has not had sufficient time to dry does not develop root systems and can yield poorly.
Planting too quickly also can expose crops to widespread losses. An entire harvest might be hit by an ill-timed heat wave just when corn is pollinating, for example.
North Dakota farmer Randy Thompson has new 36-row and 24-row planters that enable him to seed his corn crop about three times as fast as he could with older, smaller machines.
But the technology has not made good farming technique obsolete. A decade ago, farmers would "plant for awhile and then they'd wait awhile," said Thompson, who has been farming his land for 28 years and plans to grow about 5,000 acres.
"If some of the crop had a problem, at least all of it didn't have a problem," he said. "Nowadays, they don't seem to care. They just want to get 'er done."