One of the coolest springs on record has delayed most producers across the Midwest from getting in the field. Typically, 42 percent of the corn in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois is planted by the first week in May. This year, only 5 percent of the planting had occurred by May 3.
Despite the delay in planting, Joe Speich, an agronomist for Landmark Services Cooperatives, says growers can still position themselves for a successful growing season.
"There's still time to get the crop in the ground," he says. "A successful start impacts the entire growing season, so it's best to focus on the essentials rather than rushing planting."
Essential variables of planting include: soil temperatures and conditions, ambient temperatures and rainfall. These conditions should be monitored and forecasted as the first 48 hours after planting are the most critical for corn seedling growth.
Successful corn planting is a combination of these conditions and timing. Planting too early in cool or wet conditions can cause seedling damage; however, if planting occurs after May 20 in the Midwest, it is estimated that 1 to 2 bushels per acre per day will be lost due to a shortened growing season.
"No matter the timing, we first need to get the stands started and healthy," Speich says. "We need to make sure we plant the crop right the first time, because we can't fix it after it's gone in the ground."
Here are five rules from the Landmark Agronomy team on providing the best start to the corn crop:
1. Wait until soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F.
Planting corn in soil that is too cold can impact early seedling development. Speich says the optimal soil for corn planting is 50 degrees F because the warmth helps foster seedling growth.
2. Plant corn when average daily high temperatures reach 60 to 70 degrees F and overnight temperatures are in the mid-50 degree F temperature range for an extended period of time.
With the delayed spring in the Midwest, temperatures have not reached this level for an extended period of time, meaning that soil temperatures have not reached the needed temperature. Watch the forecast for an extended period of warm temperatures before planting. Cold weather following planting can cause damage to seedlings by cooling the soil.
3. Do not plant before expected rainfall.
Cold water can damage seedlings and reduce yields from the start. The most critical period of the growing season is the 48 hours following planting.
"If more than 1 inch of cold rain happens after planting, we can predict about a 20 percent stand loss just from the cold weather of the rain," Speich says.
"Once the cold water gets into the seedling, it causes cracking and infections of the cells. Look for a constant, warm 60 to 70 degree period with no major rain in the forecast; that's a safe time to be planting corn," Speich says.
4. Be observant of soil conditions.
Moisture levels in the soil impact seedling growth. Plant corn in saturated soil can be problematic.
"If soil is muddy, you can start seeing sidewall compaction caused by the corn planter," Speich says. "This can cause a delay in root development in corn. To help ensure a better yield, be conscious on how wet the fields are and do not try to rush them. Letting the field dry out for an additional day will pay dividends in the fall."
As a general rule, if the soil sticks to the depth-gauge wheel on the corn planter, the soil is too wet for corn planting.
5. Work with an agronomist to create a planting plan.
Fertilizers, growth regulators, planter box treatments and other additives can help promote early corn stand growth. Agronomists can determine a plan that works best for the field and the goals of the operation.
"Rely on a trusted agronomist for recommendations," Speich says. "Each farm is different; an agronomist can help you determine which products, planting time and programs are best for you."