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Frost vs warmth and when do we plant?

By Staff | Apr 4, 2014

April is here, and only time will tell if winter makes a return visit. Having the first 70-degree temps of the year on Sunday across most of the state seemed to be a true indicator that our days of sub-zero temps should be behind us.

The rain that came on March 27 and 28 made most of the snow disappear and should help begin to get the deep frost out of the ground.

And as far as spring moisture, the best indicator so far is that the previously dry Arkansas began to get rain on March 27, and it was still raining the next day.

They had water sitting in the ruts in their fields, and farmers who were expecting to be working the ground on Saturday had their schedules altered and were hoping to get in some time on Monday.

My wife had a conference down in Kansas City over the weekend so I happened to be south of there and had the chance to see the country and talk to a few growers. They related how many of them will plant five or six different crops, often spacing the planting dates to better manage workloads particular to each.

Cotton is an important crop in the area. Corn is grown, but is typically planted early to beat the heat and dry weather which causes grain fill problems due to heavy clay soils that restrict root growth and penetration.

Across the country, reports from different contacts tell of corn planting and field work that would normally begun about a month ago is just now getting started or the earliest corn down in Texas is about a month behind normal. While a warm Sunday may seem refreshing, a good question among growers is how long will it take for 40 to 60 inches of frost to leave?

A related question is what happens if the top foot is thawed out and warmed up, but the frost is still present at 30 inches or deeper? Is it possible or wise to plant? Normally we would not expect the topsoil to warm to near 50 degrees if it is frozen underneath, but anything seems possible nowadays.

All this questioning may become inconsequential if the normal timing for when the rains begin in Arkansas and work their way north into the northern Midwest. Isn’t there customarily a six-week time lag? That would indicate a mid-May wet spell.

The acreage battle

Early indicators such as first-hand reports by larger seed dealers point to a major shift away from as much second-year corn to more beans being planted. The same reasons seem to apply such as poor performance under drought conditions, corn rootworm problems, or corn is just too expensive to fund the inputs in light of declining yields seen in recent years.

It takes a top and proactive grower to be alert to the corn-on-corn challenges, such as lost nitrogen and Goss’ wilt pressure.

Working into a rotation, even if it consists of only two crops has a benefit as far as weed and insect pressures are concerned.

With the soils beginning to warm and more growers trying to stay ahead of weed pressures, it will be wise for any no-till or strip-till growers to be on alert for soil warming into the mid- to high-40s, where some of the broadleaf weeds can begin to emerge.

If your fields contain some of these such as giant and common ragweed or marestail, make sure those fields are treated with the appropriate herbicides before they germinate and become established.


There are still many acres of ground that will need dry or liquid program applied to this spring due to the weird late-fall conditions. With the drop in commodity prices many growers were considering skipping any fall or spring application. The wisdom in doing so will depend on several factors.

First, where are the soil test levels at, low, medium or high? This information can be used to roughly calculate what the yield ramifications would be if the fertilizer was not applied.

The guess is not perfect, but can give the percent chance of seeing an influence on the 2014 final yield.

Second, if a person has his planter equipped with liquid attachments then the opportunity to apply fertilizer at the time of planting is available.

The poundage is typically lower than a fall or spring bulk application, but enough can be applied to make a difference on yield.

Strip-tillers can typically apply as much as any broadcast person can, but normally shave rates by 25 to 30 percnet due to the increased efficiency of having the material in a concentrated band.

Thus, now is the time where recent soil tests are valuable. If they are more than four years old or two crop cycles old and higher than fertilizer yields or applications above removal existed, then test levels may have changed.

The greatest form of mistakes that I have seen are when the fertilizer company or operator did not test for any of the macro or micronutrients that can greatly influence yield or plant health.

This would include sulfur, zinc, manganese and boron. Spot checking now can be helpful, but the question about how to apply it if no bulk application this spring is planned.

Adding ATS can help apply sulfur. Utilizing a dry application of AMS at 100 to 200 pounds per acre can have multiple benefits.

It can also offer the opportunity of adding in boron or zinc if those are needed. The other minerals can be added via a foliar application.

After a year of springtime flooding, which allowed for nitrogen to leach or denitrify, followed by a summer when poor positional availability was a factor, more corn growers will want to increase their N use efficiency.

Many farm magazines and winter growers clinics dealt discussed sidedressing a portion of the nitrogen or using some form of encapsulated or stabilized N to prevent future losses. This is all a part of good management that should benefit yields.

The researchers who have worked with the Perfect Blend fertilizer and the growers who have used it have typically seen a good crop response from the spring-applied material.

With its ability to cause a microbial bloom while preventing N from leaching and other contained nutrients it should be a good material to experiment with on a few fields to gain experienced for 2015.

If it gives the normal 20- to 30-bushel-per-acre yield bump, and the local cost makes economic sense, there could be serious demand for it in front of the 2015 crops.

Early disease control

In many areas of Iowa, early-season diseases affecting both the root and lower portion of the stalks have become problematic.

One has to ask if the pathogens have become more aggressive, the natural controlling organisms have been harmed, or if the plants have become more susceptible to these attacks.

The answer to these questions may be yes to two or three of the above.

Remember that last year’s seedling testing showed that Goss’ wilt was here early and sometimes killed plants that never made it out of the ground. The solution may be to use a mineral mix applied to the seed imbedded in polymer layers, or a broad spectrum fungicide/bactericide like Procidic.

The jury is still out on what the best methods of control are. I prefer those that correct any nutrient deficiencies that are present and try to address the cause and not just the symptom of the problem.

Where the SabrEx seed treatment helps is that the trichoderma fungus produces and releases organic acids that free up more manganese, copper and iron that improve plant health and grain-fill time.

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

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