Farmers who are antsy to get into their fields to complete tillage operations and plant corn should do their best to stay patient, two Purdue Extension agronomists say.

Brutally cold, snowy winter months throughout Indiana have given way to a cold, wet spring. Farmers who try to till wet fields or plant corn into mud risk a host of soil problems, including root-restricting compaction, which can have lasting effects on crop yields.

“We had a winter with enough freeze and thaw cycles to loosen the soils, but heavy rains have re-compacted it, meaning many farmers will feel the need to do some tillage this spring,” said Tony Vyn, who specializes in tillage. “My worry is that farmers concerned about the calendar might get out when it’s too wet. It’s exceptionally wet right now. Exercise patience in doing that first tillage pass.”

Some farmers completed fall tillage operations intending to do stale-seedbed planting in spring, but according to Vyn those fields might still need some attention this spring – especially fields that were strip-tilled in the fall.

“There isn’t a great strip-till persist from fall, so while those fields looked good then, the loosened berms now might look flat. In that case, a grower might need to do a second, but shallower, spring pass,” Vyn said.

Ponding from winter snow melt and heavy rainfall also has left behind some areas of crop residue that planters won’t be able to cut through without some tillage to break up the mat.

Vyn suggested looking at ponded areas on a case basis to decide what type of tillage is right for each situation.

“Minimum tillage is the word of the day, and it’s important to delay it as much as possible to give soils a chance to dry out,” he said.

Vyn suggested that farmers consider using some form of electronic or GPS guidance in their tractors to keep more precise traffic patterns in the field. Using the same traffic lanes can help farmers preserve seedbed soil quality.

Purdue Extension corn specialist Bob Nielsen said it’s important that farmers remember that planting date isn’t the only factor that determines crop yields.

“Planting date isn’t the only predictor of yield,” he said. “Growers can create a lot of compaction by planting too early. The worst-case scenario is mudding in a crop and creating both sidewall and surface compaction, which restricts root development, then having dry weather later in the season.”