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Don't mud it in

Agriculture.com Staff 04/23/2008 @ 8:35am

What a year! First, many parts of the Corn Belt had above-average amounts of snowfall this past winter, and now many areas are flirting with a soggy spring that's got fieldwork and spring planting at a standstill.

Rainfall amounts of up to three inches in the last week in parts of Iowa and Illinois -- including some snow flurries in parts of northern Illinois last week -- are keeping the wheels from turning in the field and making farmers grit their teeth as they watch the days on the calendar blow by, in some cases, beyond the optimal planting dates for corn and soybeans.

So, what's a field-ready, cabin-fever-to-the-point-of-insanity farmer to do? As tough as it may be, it's best to tune up that patience and wait out the damp weather...at least in the near term, agronomists say. Planting as late as mid-May still nets yields right at or near 100% of their potential, but that number can slide quickly if you try to "mud" your corn in, even during the optimal planting time.

"This is a good time to remember that soil at field capacity is at its most 'compactable,' and that even flotation tires can do some damage when they carry heavy equipment across soils that are wet," says University of Illinois Extension agronomist Emerson Nafziger. "Good yields are certainly possible when planting is delayed, and planting two weeks after the optimum date might well produce higher yields than planting into cool, wet, compacted soils closer to the optimum date."

The timeframe is similar in Iowa, but recent history has trained us to think the best time to plant corn has changed. According to Iowa State University agronomists Lori Abendroth and Roger Elmore, technological developments have made corn better able to thrive in early-spring conditions and, as a result, the planting window has widened.

"Hybrid cold tolerance, seed treatments, tillage systems, herbicide options and planter systems are technological improvements allowing early planting when conditions are good. For example, we had half of our 2006 corn planted nearly two weeks earlier than we did in the late 1970s," according to Abendroth and Elmore.

"Our early planting trend was spoiled by wet cold weather in 2007 with half of the corn planted after the first week of May. We essentially had three planting dates last year in Iowa. One thing in common with all three sets of 2007 planting date was that it was wet every time! Yet we still had the third-highest yield in the history of Iowa in 2007, 171 bushels per acre! Planting date is one of many management practices that relate to yield but it is not always the main factor," they add.

What a year! First, many parts of the Corn Belt had above-average amounts of snowfall this past winter, and now many areas are flirting with a soggy spring that's got fieldwork and spring planting at a standstill.

Even though the ideal time for getting your corn in may be drawing near (or passing by already), yield loss isn't yet inevitable, Nafziger says. Potential loss is slight for almost three weeks past the optimal planting date in most areas, especially when compared to the yield outlook when planting when conditions are poor.

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