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Late start? Consider these adjustments

Next to none of this year's corn crop is in the ground. The planting window up to this point can't be changed. What you do moving forward once the planting window does open up can and, sometimes, should be changed once conditions improve.

The instinct for a lot of farmers will be to hit the ground running as soon as that planting window slides open, even a bit. For a lot of reasons, however, that's not the time to get started.

"As prospects for a timely start to spring planting diminish, growers need to reassess their planting strategies and consider adjustments. Since delayed planting often reduces the yield potential of corn, the foremost attention should be given to management practices that will expedite crop establishment," says Ohio State University Extension crop scientist Peter Thomison.

The first idea to consider, though, doesn't sound like it's expeditious at all: Basically, wait. Don't let the urge to get into the field put you there before conditions are right.

"Although the penalty for late planting is important, care should be taken to avoid tillage and planting operations when soil is wet. Yield reductions resulting from 'mudding the seed in' are usually much greater than those resulting from slight planting delays," Thomison says. "Yields may be reduced somewhat this year due to delayed planting, but effects of soil compaction can reduce yield for several years to come. (Keep in mind that we typically don’t see significant major yield reductions due to late planting until mid-May or even later in some years)."

Next, consider those fertilizer plans you made back when this was going to be a "normal" year. You'll likely face a tight enough planting window that it's going to be tough to justify the time to put down preplant nitrogen. Instead, maybe consider sidedressing, Thomison recommends. The same is true for potassium and phosphorous; those can be applied after planting if necessary.

"In late planting seasons associated with wet, cool soil conditions, growers should consider sidedressing anhydrous N (or UAN liquid solutions) and applying a minimum of 30 lb/N broadcast or banded to stimulate early seedling growth. This latter approach will allow greater time for planting," he says. "Similarly, crop requirements for P and K can often be met with starter applications placed in bands 2 inches to the side and 2 inches below the seed. Application of P and K is only necessary with the starter if they are deficient in the soil, and the greatest probability of yield response from P and K starter is in a no-till situation."

If you have tillage to knock out before you can plant, but you haven't even been able to get that job done, you could get by with trimming how much and what kind you conduct, Thomison adds. In other words, you can likely get by with doing much less than normal, considering the time crunch.

"Keep time expended on tillage passes and other preparatory operations to a minimum. 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 says. "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."

Finally, look at the seed you plan to plant. It's still early enough to need to switch to a different maturity even if you feel like you're stretching your normal planting window too much, because doing so can do just as much to trim yield potential as delayed planting. But, if you do make a seed change -- before it gets too late, that is -- cutting back a little on plant populations is worth considering, Thomison says.

"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. Research in Ohio and other Corn Belt states generally indicates that earlier maturity hybrids lose less yield potential with late plantings than the later maturing, full-season hybrids," he says. "In delayed planting situations, 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. 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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