By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, product manager, Seed Consultants, Inc.
With spring planting right around the corner, it is a good time to discuss key management practices and the impact they have on the growing season. You may have heard that the crop starts the season in the bag with its highest yield potential. That yield potential can be lost due to several factors throughout the season. While many factors leading to yield loss are out of our control (drought, disease development, insect pressure, etc.), it is important to properly manage the factors that can be controlled.
With the presence of herbicide-resistance weeds and the growing number of herbicide trait options, it is increasingly important for farmers to be well informed and meticulous in their weed control decisions. Knowing what weeds are present and which herbicides most effectively control them is a must. In addition, growers should understand what herbicide products will be applied (either by themselves or commercial applicator), what level of control is expected, and any required application or plant-back restrictions. Employing residual herbicides for a longer window of control is crucial as well. It’s also becoming increasingly important to understand what products can and can’t be tank mixed with new soybean herbicide traits. Herbicides should be applied when weeds are 4 to 6 inches tall. Make sure to apply the correct rate of herbicide and always follow the product label.
One lesson eastern Corn Belt growers can take from 2021 is the importance of monitoring both field conditions and weather forecasts. The first 24 to 48 hours a seed is in the ground are critical to seedling development. In that time the seed is taking in moisture and beginning the germination process. When planted directly before a cold/wet weather event, seeds are at risk of imbibitional chilling injury. Agronomists and farmers observed chilling injury in corn and soybean fields that resulted in seedling damage, seedling death, and reduced stands in 2021. The damaging weather events last spring proved the importance of watching forecasts and avoiding planting crops right before extreme changes in weather.
Seed placement is another critical aspect of planting that growers can control. Ensuring correct seed depth as well as proper seed spacing will help ensure adequate stands for maximizing yield potential. Improper seed placement can result in a variety of crop development problems such as uneven or poor emergence, poor root development, poor standability, and ultimately yield loss. For corn, seed needs to be planted no shallower than 1.5 inches below the soil surface. Soybean seed should be planted at a depth of 1 to 1.5 inches. Planting depth should be set properly and checked regularly throughout the planting season. Conditions impacting planting depth will vary throughout the season and equipment will need to be adjusted periodically. Field conditions such as soil moisture, soil type, compaction, and tillage versus no-till will impact planting depth settings. Moving from one field to the next can require an adjustment of gauge wheels. Planter weight and downpressure will also impact planting depth. Ensuring proper seed placement is a critical part of achieving a high-yielding crop.
One other important aspect of planting that often causes concern is corn planting date. For much of the Eastern Corn Belt it is widely understood that the optimal planting period is between April 20 and May 10. Research from Bob Nielsen out of Purdue University has proven that corn loses 0.3% of its yield potential per day early in May to about 1% per day by the end of May. Knowing that this is true, it can be frustrating during a wet spring or when field work is delayed. It is important to keep in mind that early planting is just one of many factors that contribute to high yield potential. Planting early favors high yields, but it does not guarantee them and growers should not focus entirely on the calendar. The cost of “mudding-in” seed or planting in wet conditions outweighs the benefits gained by planting early.
Planting is one of the most important management practices of the year because it sets the stage for the entire growing season. For success in 2022, growers should pay close attention to important details and employ sound management decisions to achieve high-yielding crops.