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By Staff | Apr 24, 2009

At the present time the stars seem to be lining up for many Iowa corn growers to get their crops planted at some of the earliest dates they have ever seen.

Common sense says this is in response to soils that have been dry enough in the western half of the state and are beginning to get fit over most areas in eastern Iowa this week. What had to have happened this past weekend was for the projected heavy storm to avoid tracking across the state and for any this weekend to miss us or drop only a reduced amount.

If those drier conditions continue we will see many growers finish corn planting by May 1 which is highly correlated with above-average yields. In eastern parts of the state soils have remained wetter and many farmers are still playing catch-up from last season.

Typically more growers in those areas have livestock and making final field preparation takes longer than it does in central Iowa. One notices that it doesn’t take long to plant an 80, 160, or 320 with today’s common 16- through 24-row and larger planters.

Who wants to bet on this summer’s grain markets? Once upon a time supply and demand used to rule the direction of prices. With the beginning of major exports such as selling grain to the USSR, politics, and who knew what and when, inside info and rumored news became vital.

Nowadays the direction of crude oil and value of the U.S. dollar versus other currencies seem to force grain prices as much as anything. This season we have had several major USDA crop reports that have been mildly bullish. What was curious about one of the recent reports was the one that had about 4 million row crop acres disappear.

While it is true that winter wheat didn’t get planted in eastern states, wheat growers in the western bean belt that lost their crop due to frost are just as likely to replant to soybeans if their soil pH permits it. When might those show up?

Planting progress

In the first part of this week I had to travel the territory from Ames, to Clarion, to Fort Dodge and then to Webster City. Knowing that most Iowa farmers have a bit of ‘Larry the Cable Guy’ in them, they got busy and got things done in the past two weeks when the weather was good.

There was no way they were going to be planting as late as July 12 like in 2008. What has surprised me is the number of corn stalk fields that had been planted to corn. It looks like a number of growers who were delaying their decisions about what crop to plant had their mind made up by the early planting date. There have continued to be quite a few anhydrous tanks being pulled through additional stalk fields and apparently are anticipating their neighbors switching to more beans, thus their contrary action might be warranted.

Is early corn planting the way to go? With the exception of one year, over the last 10 to 15 years the guys and gals that were the first to plant often harvested the most bushels and had the driest grain at harvest. A better criterion might be to plant when the soil is fit and the calendar is indicating that soil temperatures should be warming up.

Last week much of north central Iowa had soils that were working great, but were colder than 50 degrees. With the normal start to warm-up only being a week away, the hunch was to get the corn planters rolling.

The advantages traditionally offered by early planting include earlier emergence, earlier tasseling, deeper grain, while temperatures are warmer and moisture supplies are more adequate; drought chances are reduced and improved standability due to the chance more photosynthate production earlier in the process.

What growers have to remember is that the number one criteria as to whether or not they should be planting is that the soil has to be dry enough to not form ruts and become compacted.

Our optimum planting window is open from about April 22 until May 9. And if the middle part of the summer is dry, but August is wet, some of the later-planted corn could yield the best.

We saw that occur in 1988 where it resumed raining about Aug. 20. Any compaction caused now can haunt fields through harvest. Thus prudence has to be the rule.

What might be the first lucky event of the season for the people that planted early was that we missed the cold rain that had been predicted for the weekend.

Enough work has been done on what is called cold water imbibitions to verify that if the first water the imbibing seed soaks up is cold that there could be a measureable amount of internal tissue damage.

One seed rep I visited with related how he has been hauling bean seed out to growers who have begun planting beans. That might be jumping the gun by about a week. What can be seen from beans planted into cold soils is that seeds will soak up water and begin to rot rather than begin to germinate.

However with good seed treatments and warming soils they should be okay at this date.


Those who have alfalfa will want to be aware that they should be paying attention to their local GDU accumulations. Once 300 heat units have been gained the eggs of alfalfa pests will hatch and the small larvae will start to feed on the leaves and stems.

The first area where growers will have to be observant of such damage is in southwest Iowa where more alfalfa is planted and conditions have been warmer.

Residual herbicides

The early reports indicate that a higher percentage of both corn and bean growers intend to lower their risk of having green fields by applying herbicides that offer residual weed and grass control.

With the cost of many herbicides being no higher than they were five to 10 years ago, it is typically cost effective to use products that control early competing grass and weeds. Last year’s continual rains reinforced the lesson that it can be too wet during May and June to get planned post programs applied.

Luckily there are still enough licensed products to offer a variety of herbicides that can be used. It will be nice to see a few new ones enter the market as will be the case in the 2009 through 2012 seasons.

Tasks to get done

Surprisingly, one thing that many growers seem to let slip by is getting their supply or source of spray water checked for its pH and mineral content.

A decent portion of the post-emerge herbicides and insecticides are affected dramatically by the water pH and the level of Ca and Mg content in the water.

A step that has typically been used to counter water quality problems is the use of AMS. Other products that can be used and avoid the salt load problems are those such as Indicate 5 and N-tense.

In the past few seasons a few growers have been using reverse osmosis filtered water with their pesticide applications. Those steps work. The main thing is to know what the pH restrictions are with each of the products you use and how your water supply tests.

Good luck with planting.

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