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Will You Plant Corn Late? Here Are 5 Tips to Net Optimal Yields

There's mounting evidence to support the idea that this spring might be a repeat of last year's cool, wet season that had some farmers planting corn and soybeans well into June.

The last few days have seen about the best planting conditions of the season thus far. But the window will likely slide shut over the next few days in the Midwest, with rain building from the central and northern Plains to the central Corn Belt. That will be a welcome shift for the parched former area, but planting delays will continue in the latter.

"The biggest delays will be in the west-central Midwest. Some planting may occur in the eastern Midwest this weekend as rains become a bit more limited there at that time," says Don Keeney, senior ag meteorologist with MDA Weather Services. "Additional widespread rains in the Midwest along with cooler temperatures early next week will maintain slow planting. Rains in Nebraska, northern Colorado, central and eastern Kansas, and eastern Oklahoma will help improve moisture a bit there for winter wheat."

Drought pressure will remain strong, Keeney adds, in areas that will likely miss the showers: western Kansas, southeast Colorado, western Oklahoma, and northwest Texas.

This trend unfolding over the next few days and weeks is reminiscent of last spring, when farmers in parts of the Midwest were so far delayed by rain and cool temperatures they ended up leaving some acres unplanted. Looking toward May -- the most critical corn-planting month -- the most common refrain among weather watchers is now one of similarly cool, wet conditions.

"Our outlook for May shifted cooler for the Midwest but was unchanged for rainfall. From a planting perspective, this pattern would support the best seeding progress from the Southeast into the eastern Midwest, while the Delta and western Midwest will see the most frequent interruptions but do not appear severely wet," according to a seasonal outlook released by the Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Tuesday. "The Midwest moisture will remain welcome to support both early corn/soybean growth."

The moisture will be a welcome occurrence for newly planted corn and soybeans, but the corresponding temperatures won't be, adds Keeney.

"Showers in the Midwest would maintain sufficient moisture for corn and soybean growth," he says. "The cool conditions in the Midwest will keep corn and soybean growth a bit slow."

Don't be alarmed by these kinds of conditions yet, though. Ohio State University Extension agronomist Peter Thomison says though his state's well behind planting pace thus far, it's not time to hit the panic button yet.

"I’m really not surprised that we’re not seeing more corn planted,” Thomison says in a university report. “We’ve had a wet April so far, but in previous planting seasons, we’ve experienced wet Aprils with conditions then turning warmer and dry and growers able to get planting done normally. This early rain pattern is not at all unusual. Conditions could be better, but there really is no need for concern yet.”

If things do get too late and your planting nerves start to rattle, Thomison recommends the following steps to adjust to a later planting start:

  1. Avoid tillage and planting in wet soils. "Yield reductions resulting from "mudding the seed in" are usually much greater than those resulting from a slight planting delay," Thomison says. "Yields may be reduced somewhat this year due to delayed planting, but effects of soil compaction can reduce yield for years to come."

  2. Consider preplant nutrient alternatives. "Although application of anhydrous N is usually recommended prior to April 15 in order to minimize potential injury to emerging corn, anhydrous N may be applied as close as a week before planting (unless hot, dry weather is predicted). In late-planting seasons associated with wet, cool soil conditions, growers should consider side-dressing anhydrous N (or UAN liquid solutions) and applying a minimum of 30 pounds/N broadcast or banded to stimulate early seedling growth. This latter approach will allow greater time for planting," Thomison says. "Similarly, application of P and K is only necessary with the starter if a soil test reveals that the soil is below the critical level."

  3. Trim field trip times for tillage and field preparations. "The above work will provide minimal benefits if it results in further planting delays. No-till offers the best option for planting on time this year," he adds. "Field seedbed preparation should be limited to leveling ruts that may have been left by the previous year’s harvest - disk or field cultivate very lightly to level. Most newer planters provide relatively good seed placement in 'trashy' or crusted seedbeds."

  4. Don't jump to switch hybrids . . . yet. "Don't worry about switching hybrid maturities unless planting is delayed to late May. If planting is possible before May 20, plant full-season hybrids first to allow them to exploit the growing season more fully," Thomison says. "Research in Ohio and other Corn Belt states generally indicates that late plantings of earlier maturity hybrids are less susceptible to yield losses than late plantings of the later maturing, full-season hybrids."

  5. Don't back off seed populations. "Use the optimal seeding rates for the yield potential of each field. Recommended seeding rates for early planting dates are often 10% higher than the desired harvest population because of the potential for greater seedling mortality," he says. "However, soil temperatures are usually warmer in late-planted fields, and as a result germination and emergence should be more rapid and uniform. So, as planting is delayed, seeding rates may be lowered in anticipation of a higher percentage of seedlings emerging."

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