Preparing for planting

By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, Soybean Lead/Field Agronomist, Seed Consultants, Inc. 

With spring planting right around the corner, it’s a good time to discuss key management practices and the impact they will have on the upcoming growing season. The crop starts the season with its highest yield potential. That yield potential can be lost throughout the season due to several factors. While many factors leading to yield loss are out of our control (weather, disease, 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 in their weed control decisions. Knowing what weeds are present and which herbicides will most effectively control them is crucial. 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 important as well. It’s also important to understand what products can and can’t be tank mixed with new soybean herbicides. 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.

 Another key management practice for spring planting is monitoring both field conditions and weather forecasts. The first 24 to 48 hours a seed is in the ground are critical to seedling development. During that time period the seed is taking in moisture and beginning the germination process. Seeds are especially vulnerable to adverse weather immediately after planting. If planted directly before a cold/wet weather event, seeds are at risk of imbibitional chilling injury. Agronomists and farmers have witnessed chilling injury in corn and soybean fields over the last few years resulting in seedling damage, seedling death, and reduced stands. Observing the problems that have occurred as a result of extreme weather events has reinforced the importance of watching forecasts and avoiding planting crops right before significant 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, standability problems, and ultimately yield loss. For corn, seed should 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.

 Another important aspect of planting that often receives a lot of attention is corn planting date. For much of the Eastern Corn Belt it is understood that the optimal planting period is between April 20 and May 10. Research 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 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 does not guarantee them and growers should not focus entirely on the calendar. The cost “mudding-in” seed or performing field work 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 2023, growers should pay close attention to important details and employ sound management decisions to achieve high-yielding crops. Taking the time to get things right will ensure the 2023 crop gets off to a good start.

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