Twice as Nice?
I’ve heard people joke about springtime conditions, saying there’s never enough time to plant, but there’s always enough time to replant. When springtime adversity from cool temperatures or high moisture affects soil conditions, farmers will either enter the field sooner or push harder when conditions improve. What is the right way to go about our planting activities? Ask me again in the fall, and I’ll have a better answer. In the meantime, it’s all about the finding the right balance between capitalizing on opportunity and reducing risk.
Suppose we experience some good weather, and you get the entire farm planted in five days. What a relief to have that done! Maybe it is, or maybe it’s not. How often have you heard someone say, “The best corn around was planted between April 20th and 26th,” or, “My whole farm did pretty well, except the acres I planted around May 5th.” Every season has a best and worst time to plant, and it’s usually based on a weather pattern. We don’t know the best time until harvest, but sometimes, we find out the worst times early enough to replant.
One of the biggest opportunities and risks we run is the ability to plant a huge number of acres in a relatively short amount of time. The opportunity is to capitalize on earlier planting dates and reduce the potential for mid-season stress. The risk is for a single weather event to impact the entire crop. There could be devastating impacts on yield if that happens in early reproductive stages or later in development around V6 when the growing point is at the surface or from V10-V12 when the risk of greenup is high. As we reach late May, the risk side of that balance shifts, and the greatest priority is getting the seed in the ground, assuming it’s fit to be planted.
I know it’s not popular, but one approach is to slow down if it’s before May 15th. University publications show that across most of the upper Midwest we’re still at 90 percent of total yield potential when we plant by mid-May. The other side of that coin is that late emerging plants in an uneven stand due to poor soil conditions can lose 20-50 percent of their yield potential if they produce an ear at all.
If your planting window is spread over two to three weeks, your crop won’t be at the same growth stage, and you will have reduced the risk of a single weather event devastating your crop. It also gives you a greater window to get across your acres at V5 to control weeds, make any supplemental nutrient applications and spread out harvest maturity. This helps keep your stalks in better condition when the combine is rolling through the field, speeding up harvest.
Even if we don’t have the luxury of spacing out planting dates because of a late spring, there are little things that can be done to spread your risk. Generally, planting order starts with the fullest season hybrids and ends with the shortest. If you compare GDU accumulations from a seed catalog to average temperatures, that planting order takes all of your acres to tassel and black layer at about the same time. Reversing the planting order by relative maturity can give you up to a two-week spread in your crop reaching those important developmental stages. While that’s a great theory, I understand there are several factors that come into play with field conditions and the frost date. It’s not an all or nothing kind of idea. Instead, you could plant a small amount, such as 10-15 percent, of your acres with early corn early, a similar number of acres with late corn late and the rest of your farm with your preferred planting order.
When it comes down to it, we all know that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Since we can’t predict the future, doing it right means reducing risk and giving yourself the best odds for increasing the average yield across your entire farm.
- Brad Hammes, Midwest Division Agronomist