10 Planting Tips from Agronomic Experts
With Plant 2020 well on its way and the effects of a cold, wet 2019 to manage, take these tips from agronomists to help prepare for planting season.
1. Achieve Uniform Emergence
Ryan Moeller, technical seed agronomist with WinField United, says, “The biggest challenge for corn in cold, wet soils is getting it to germinate quickly and uniformly, and there are two ways we can help.”
Moeller first recommends a liquid starter fertilizer in-furrow. “The two nutrients we focus on are phosphorus and zinc because they are so critical for getting germination to happen. But, unfortunately, in cold soils, soil phosphorus and zinc are basically unavailable, potentially leading to slower and more uneven crop emergence.”
The second recommendation Moeller makes is a plant growth-regulator product to help create a uniform emergence. “If you have uniform emergence, later in the season that helps because then you have uniform plant height and crop staging, which helps for staying on-label when spraying, and it’s also important for pollination to happen at the same time among all the plants across the field,” explains Moeller.
2. Scout for Compaction Issues
The wet weather from this and the previous season means taking initiative to mitigate the impact of compaction.
“The key is if you planted in less-than-ideal conditions, whether it's corn or soybeans, you typically are going to want to scout those heavier and wetter soil areas in your field more to make sure the plants aren’t having emergence issues, whether it's sidewall compaction or compaction over the row from hard rains,” advises Todd Schomburg, director of agronomy at Stine Seed Company.
Schomburg recommends keeping an eye on the well-known tough areas of fields that are at risk for significant compaction to ensure you get the emergence you expect.
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3. Balance Nutrients in the Fields
Curt Woolfolk, senior agronomist at Mosaic, says, “We have 17 essential nutrients. There are 118 elements on the periodic table, but as agronomists and as growers, there are only 17 that are essential for crop growth and critical for maximizing yield.”
Woolfolk explains that balancing those essential nutrients in the field is just like balancing human nutrition. Think about the right ratio to maximize yield and return on investment when every square inch of every acre on the farm has to pay. Let the four R’s of nutrient stewardship be your guide: the right source, the right rate, the right time, and the right placement of products.
4. Use Seed Treatments Against Disease
“Soybean diseases don’t go away when the soil warms up, so it’s absolutely critical that you use a seed treatment with soybeans,” says Moeller.
Even if you plant later into warmer, drier soils, there can still be disease present, such as Phytophthora and Rhizoctonia. While these don't always eliminate plants outright, they will affect the roots and weaken the plant.
“Over time, those soil-borne diseases may eventually reduce populations through death loss or weaken the soybeans, allowing other diseases or deficiencies to reduce populations even more, which could significantly impact yield. So, seed treatments are critical to ensure that you get the plant out of the ground and protected throughout a portion of its early life,” explains Moeller.
5. Set Proper PSI to Mitigate Compaction in the Field
Brad Harris, manager of global agricultural field engineering at Firestone Ag, says he first recommends achieving the proper PSI in tires to mitigate compaction.
“What the inflation pressure is in the tires, the ground experiences between 10% to 20% higher ground contact pressure. For example, if you have 20 PSI in your tires, the ground experiences contact pressures of 22 PSI. Whatever you can do with your tractor, planter, and overall equipment set up so that you can get your inflation pressures to 15 PSI or below, that’s the level where you don't put the compaction into the ground that roots can't grow through.”
Harris recommends evaluating your tractor setup, tire sizing, and determining if singles, duals, or triples will be helpful.
6. Record Data Continually
Moeller says an important habit to get into is to accurately record as-planted data, and there are tools to help you do that. “At the beginning of the season, capturing where you put those high-yield potential, high-nitrogen corn hybrids is key. You will need to know where those are in case you have to go back out and do some sidedress fertility there. Same thing with fungicide."
Moeller says all hybrids respond differently to fungicide, independent of disease. “What we find is you get anywhere from maybe a couple of bushels or no bushels from spraying a fungicide to upwards of 20 to 30 bushels and that is in absence of disease. Growers must know where those particular hybrids are planted so they can go out and apply fungicides or maybe not waste their time putting on a fungicide or the additional nitrogen if it's a hybrid that's not going to give it a response.”
7. Evaluate Field Temps before Planting
As you manage your planting plan, consider the various field scenarios that can impact soil temperature.
“If you are a no-tiller or if you did a cover crop, they are going to be cooler. Or soybean stubble versus corn-on-corn, the corn-on-corn typically is going to be a little cooler because of the additional trash up on top,” explains Schomburg. “Also, however your soil temperatures come out will help you pick which field you want to start planting.”
8. Check Your Planting Depth
Even if you’re faced with limited time to get planting done this spring, be sure to check your planting depth every time you get to a new field.
Moeller says, “If you’re seeding two inches into a loamy soil with a nice tilth and then you move into a field that is a little more compact or that is a heavier soil type, you may be planting into the new ground much shallower than you are anticipating to be."
That risks a poor stand with poorer emergence, compromised root development, and reduced nutritional and moisture uptake. Moeller recommends planting a little bit into a new field, dig up the seeds, and see how deep they are, and make any necessary adjustments to your planter.
As the weather warms, put soil testing on your spring checklist. Woolfolk says not to stray too far away from the fundamentals this spring, whether your 2019 crop was a home run or turned out less than ideal.
“It's always important to come back to those best management practices like a soil test. Even if you think there were residual nutrients left in your fields from 2019 because you maybe didn’t pick up the same level of yield that you did in 2017 or 2018, it’s more important than ever to look at what I call the ‘fuel tanks’ for each nutrient.”
10. Plan for In-Season Fertility and Tissue Sampling
Moeller recommends tissue sampling in-season and making any micronutrient applications or sidedressing as necessary. “What we find in early spring through V10, or into the grand growth phase, is usually manganese, zinc, and boron that are the most deficient micronutrients,” says Moeller.
The ideal stage to start tissue sampling is five-leaf corn because at V6, corn starts building the ear. Understanding what the crop needs and prioritizing any applications on your most productive acres may take precedence over other tasks.