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Make up for lost fieldwork time

So, your usual planting window may be closed. Things haven't gone as planned. That doesn't mean your crop's going to end up dead on arrival. Just change your priorities a little and you can still make a good crop, specialists say.

First off, if you have tillage to do, you may need to make a few difficult decisions soon. One specialist advises re-examining your tillage needs again before you re-enter the field when things dry out. And, don't be afraid to change your plans at the last minute.

"The major question this season is, 'How should my intended tillage program change in response to the current realities of saturated soils within fields, the weather forecast and the calendar?'" says Purdue University Extension agronomist Tony Vyn. "Overall, the most essential aspects of tillage management for corn planting in Indiana and surrounding states over the next few weeks will be to exercise caution, control weeds and enhance seedbed quality where possible.

"It is essential to leave the soil condition with the maximum opportunity for unimpeded corn root development," Vyn adds. "Potential corn yields can be compromised more by poor soil structure following poor tillage choices from now on than they have been by lost planting days thus far."

And now, your planting timeframe will obviously be different than normal. You'll likely need to really get after it when you can get back into the field. And, just based on the last few years, farmers will be able to catch up fairly quickly once conditions let the planters roll.

"We can put a lot of corn in the ground quickly! Last year, based on data from the Iowa Crops and Weather Reports, Iowans planted from 37,000 acres per suitable day to nearly 1.4 million acres. In 2008 and 2009, over 1.2 million acres were planted per day suitable for field work during the best weeks," says Iowa State University (ISU) Extension agronomist Roger Elmore. "Farmers are well-equipped to do it in record time, if the weather cooperates. We just need 10 excellent days!"

As you're putting in that crop, try to resist the urge to plant too shallow. University of Nebraska Extension engineer Paul Jasa says it's easy to assume planting corn plants shallower will help speed up emergence. That may be the case, he says, but it can also hamper plant development that you can't see.

"The corn roots may not develop properly when planting too shallow and the stands may not grow uniformly," Jasa says. "When planting shallower than 2 inches, the angled closing wheels on many planters pack the soil below the seed and don’t properly close the seed-vee.

Shallow planting can spawn other problems later on, too. If it's too dry after the corn's in the ground, it can suck much-needed moisture away from the seed quicker. If too wet, compaction can hamper the young plants' ability to grow, Jasa says.

"The seed zone is more likely to dry out when planting too shallow. While it may have been fairly wet at planting, the top layer of soil dries fairly quickly. If there is an extended warm, dry period after planting, there may not be enough soil moisture in the seed zone to get all the seeds germinated uniformly," he says. "This problem is worse in wet conditions as the wet soils are easily compacted, reducing the penetration ability of the corn roots. Even if the corn was planted at least 2 inches deep, soil smearing and seed-vee opening may still be a problem if the corn was 'mudded in' so producers should wait for proper soil conditions."

Unfortunately, while you've been delayed in getting your crops planted, Mother Nature hasn't had the same problem sowing weeds. The weeds are already growing, and that will require some changes in your herbicide applications to keep ahead of them.

"Weeds are well underway for another year of reduced crop yields. Except for those producers that were able to take advantage of the one or two days available for field work in April, the opportunity to use a soil-applied residual herbicide for weed management in corn has been lost," says ISU agronomist Micheal Owen. "In no-till fields, DO NOT wait to apply the traditional burndown herbicide treatment until after the corn has emerged. The philosophy of the delayed burndown approach is to reduce trips across the field; however, this approach usually guarantees considerable loss of crop yield potential and thus profit.

"Early preplant herbicide opportunities still exist for soybeans, but given the weed growth that currently exists, a burndown product should be included with the soil-applied residual herbicide," Owen adds. "The sooner a soybean herbicide is applied, the better the weed management and the greater the soybean profits."

But, in making changes like these, be sure you stay on top of resistance issues in your area. In Iowa, that means ALS inhibitor-resistant waterhemp, Owen says.

"Any herbicide (single product or pre-package mixture) that is a Group 2 product will not provide any control or stewardship with regard to waterhemp," he says. "In Iowa, resistance to ALS, HPPD, triazine, PPO and glyphosate products exists in waterhemp populations and in most instances, the waterhemp populations have multiple herbicide resistances. The take-home message is make herbicide selection a well-thought and informed decision."

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