Farm Horizons, April 2016

Are early planting dates a good decision?

By Dave Schwartz
Certified crop advisor, Gold Country Seed

Out-guessing the weather has always been a challenge in crop production; sometimes we guess right, and sometimes not.

Examples of the guessing games farmers play include:

• Should I plant corn today, even though soil conditions are not ideal, or wait a few days?

• Should I cut alfalfa today, or wait a few days and hope for a better forecast?

• Should I start taking corn out today and spend extra dollars drying the crop, or wait a few days and hope the crop stands well and I am able to get the crop out before freeze-up?

Every year, farmers can look back at the past growing season and say, “I should have,” because weather is unpredictable.

One of the first weather-related decisions of the year comes at planting time.

It may be April 15, and fields are in good condition. Should I go ahead and plant, even though soil temperatures are not ideal?

Or it may be May 20, field conditions are not great, but there is rain in the forecast, and it may be June 1 before we are back in the field. Do I plant and realize soil compaction will trim some yield, but maybe not as much as if I wait until early June to plant?

University of Minnesota Extension research has found that if corn is planted between April 25 and May 6 in southern Minnesota, corn yields are within 1 percent of optimum.

Sometime around May 1, we start to see a very slight yield decline. This statement is backed by years of research by Extension corn agronomists at the University of Minnesota.

What is the earliest date corn should be planted? Growers run into some risk when planting before April 15. Very-early planted fields can be damaged by late frosts in mid-May, causing permanent plant injury. This can lead to yield losses of 9 percent to 15 percent, according to U of M Corn Agronomist Jeff Coulter.

I have come to the conclusion, that if I was farming and fields were in good condition April 15, I would plant corn.

Usually, the earliest planted corn fields (if not mudded in) are best yielding. If not the best, they are usually as good as later-planted fields, and usually a few points dryer at harvest.

Seedling emergence is one of two critical growth periods for a corn plant. It’s critical to have seeds germinate and emerge uniformly.

Today’s corn hybrids have better seedling vigor than they did years ago, and seed treatments provide corn producers excellent protection from seedling diseases and insects that may interfere with emergence.

Of course, there are no guarantees of perfect stands with any planting date, because we are dealing with weather.

I think we can be confident, though, that seed treatments will protect seedlings from many of the common pests that are present in early planted corn fields.

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