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Planting advice: Wait a bit

By Staff | Apr 22, 2011

How many of us have been secretely dreaming of or fearing a White Easter? Mother nature, in honor of the death of the theory of global warming, is doing her best to give us that event.

The only good thing is that most of the country is in the same situation of being too wet and cold. If they aren’t they are in a drought situation and wish they had more of the moisture that we have been receiving. It might be a good thing Bing Crosby is no lonter singing.

We will have to give a few points to the weather forecasters who predicted correctly on this spring weather. A few stuck their necks out and said to look for a cool and wet spring, followed by a high probability of a later-than-normal cold air intrusion that could actually mean a dip below 32 degrees in certain areas.

Most growers in the central Midwest relished the near-perfect planting conditions of 2010 after the many planting delays of the prior two years. Here we are again, just hoping that things will shape up in the next week and let us get the tasks done.

Planting advice

A good writer called on Tuesday and asked how to interpret all of the factors that farmers have to look at when judging when they should begin planting, and when they may begin to consider that planting is being delayed. I had to reply that it is still early in the planting season based on the calendar and that other things needed to be considered than just the date.

What I explained is that the ideal planting window for corn was likely April 25 through May 5, and that operators with lots of acres to plant typically like to start about April 15 through 22 if they get a chance. Assuming that there will be a few weather delays they then have a good chance to completing their corn planting by that May 5 or 10 date.

After that date it is typically assumed that there will be a yield loss and a higher cost to dry the grain since it is likley to be wetter at harvest. Earlier tasseling dates, getting by with less total moisture usage and maintaining a shorter plant height with better roots are other early-planting benefits.

Thus most corn growers like be be rolling hard with the planters by April 25. With many planters now being from 16 to 24 or even 36-plus rows and many large operators running more than one planter it does not take too long for most farmers to get their corn acres finished.

The big determing factor to consider is if the ground is dry enough to plant without causing compaction.

If it is April 11 and the ground is dry enough to work and not make tracks, and the soil temperature is rising and warmer temps are in the near term forecast, then it is easy to keep the planter running.

This year that early window that many crop farmers like to target was very small and fleeting. In past years it opened about April 10 and stayed open for 10 to 14 days.

This year it was open for just two or three days, and then only for those who were still nervous about the cold rain and snow that was in the forecast for last weekend.

Why caution was urged was that in the recent past, when there were fields that contained poor stands, the causal factor was often that the field was typically planted a day or two in front of a cold rain with the ground staying cold for another week or so.

Sometimes there were extenuating circumstances, but the malady referred to as cold water imbibition – which is when the first water absorbed by the seed was cold and it was thought to cause tissue damage to the developing seedling – was believed to have happened.

More farmers have either heard about it or have experienced it, so with seed corn now being expensive and the crop worth so much, fewer farmers were willing to take a big risk in planting a lot of acres last week.

It is currently too cold and too wet to consider heading to the fields.

Soil conditions

Growers who have worked ground this spring have commented that the soils have worked very well this spring. Last spring the comments detailing soil conditions ranged from “it worked great” to often “it was cloddy and seemed very slabby.”

This year the snow depth never got as deep as it did the previous season and most soils went through many more freeze/thaw cycles. That is the optimum thing to have happen to shatter shallow compaction and help mellow the soils.

As long as it doesn’t snow much more the soils should remain softer this season and should allow better moisture infiltration.

Preserving the softer soils will be important in letting the small corn seedlings emerge without problems due to crusting or poor aeration. In recent seasons more farmers and agronomists have been noticing plants that appear to be crusted under or having difficulty in emerging, even when no crust is present.

That problem has not been bad enough to require replanting, but it has lowered some otherwise good stands by 3 percent to perhaps 10 percent, which is enough to affect yields.

Different people have their theories about the causes, but no one has come up with the definitive answer. Keep an eye out for this problem in your fields.

Soybean planting

I am one who normally advocates trying to get soybean seed in the ground early, meaning roughly from April 28 through May 5. That typically bolsters the chance of forming the 18 to 22 podded nodes that are required to produce high yielding soybeans.

In 2010 many soybean growers saw that very early-planted bean fields had a much greater problem with SDS. We don’t know yet if that was because the seedlings had more time in which to get infected by the fusarium or the soil oxygen level influenced the fusarium to pseudomonas population ratios in the soil.

Guys who got burned bad by SDS are going to be very cautious about this disease this spring and will likely wait until the soils are warmer and drier. The same growers have also been urged at winter meetings or during visits with their crop advisor about what other managment steps should be adopted to mininize the effects of the disease.

Observing variety ratings, watching plant nutrition levels and possibly using biologicals to fight the in-soil biological battle are what many growers are doing and hoping works.

Early season insects

Being we are nearing widespread planting and subsequent seedling emergence it will also be time to be aware of each potential crop insect threat. The first might be seed corn maggots. These fly larvae typically appear in fields that contain a large amount of green, decomposing residue and can tunnel into the seed or the small stems of either corn or soybeans. The general form of control is through the neo-nic seed treatments.

Damage is somewhat uncommon anymore, but if it happens to be your field affected, it can be a big deal.

Next on the list might be black cutworms. The parent generation is a blackish moth that blows in from southerly locations during April or May. In their trip northward they typically land when they hit of 50-degree air where they like to land in fields that hold a population of winter annuals such as mustard members of the mint family.

So far this spring most of our winds have been from the north or northwest so we will have to watch the published moth trap catch information. It is the winds from the south that bring in the moths from their Texas or Mexican overwintering sites.

The last insect to mention would be the stink bug. These triangle shapped bugs are gaining more attention due to several new species that have appeared in the U.S. and are proving to have a lot of damage potential.

There are many species in the family with a few actually being beneficial in nature. The damaging species harm the plants or plant parts by piercing the plant with a strong beak, or stylet, and injecting a toxin that upsets the plants’ physiology and growth.

In corn plants the visible injury consists of yellowed, stunted corn plants with a dead central growing point and multiple side shoots. No-till fields containing lots of residue have been the ones most affected in previous seasons.

These insects can be present throughout the season in soybeans. Growers in the southeastern states scout for this insect religiously as the treatment threshholds are very low.

urrent research with stink bugs includes trying to decipher the insect toxins to try to figure out exactly how they operate in the plants.

Here’s hoping that the sun begins shining and temperatures warm.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.

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