Spring planting tips

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

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

Ready or not, spring of 2024 is upon us and with it the beginning of another growing season. Spring is a critical time for making sound decisions that will impact crops throughout the growing season. Each year is different, however, every year we see similar problems in eastern Corn Belt fields relating to spring management decisions. Now is a good time to revisit some of the important things to consider as planting season approaches.

One yield-robbing problem that can significantly impact crops is compaction. Compaction can be caused by any fieldwork that is performed when soil is too wet. Therefore, it is important to consider soil moisture before heading to the field with any implement. Each year, agronomists visit fields to assess stunted crops with poor root development because of compaction. Compaction in the spring can be caused by wheel traffic, tillage, vertical tillage, etc. The importance of avoiding compaction cannot be understated as research has documented that compaction can cause yield losses as much as 10% or more.

Soil temperature is another key factor in getting the crop off to a successful start. For germination and emergence, corn and soybeans should be planted into soil with temperatures of at least 50 degrees F. Additionally, growers should monitor the forecast as planting right before a cold rain event can cause chilling injury to seeds. Keep in mind, the first 24 to 36 hours after planting is a critical period where seeds are imbibing water to begin the germination process. If planted into cold soils or right before a cold rainfall, seeds will imbibe cold water and will be at risk of imbibitional chilling injury. This can result in deformed seedlings, stand loss, and ultimately a need to replant. Planting into adequate soil temps and paying attention to the weather forecast are critical pieces to getting the crop off to a successful start.

Another critical part of spring planting is planting depth. Every year, agronomists come across problems that are caused by variable and improper planting depth. Planting depth is critical because it impacts germination, seedling development, root development, emergence, and ultimately crop yields. For corn, seed needs to be planted no shallower than 1.5 inches below the soil surface. It is important to make sure that corn is planted into adequate soil moisture for germination. In addition, corn needs to be at least 1.5 inches deep for the proper early development of the root system. After germination, as the coleoptile nears the soil surface, it senses light and signals the plant to stop elongation of the mesocotyl as well as signaling development of the root system. Corn that is planted shallower than 1.5 inches does not give the plant enough room between the seed and the soil surface to properly signal for and develop its root system. A shallow nodal root system can lead to decreased water and nutrient uptake as well as increased root lodging and standability problems later in the growing season.

 Soybean seed should be planted at a depth of 1 to 1.5 inches. As with corn, it is critical to plant the soybean seed at the proper depth into adequate soil moisture to insure germination and emergence. Soybeans must take up 50% of their weight in water to germinate, therefore, ensuring they are planted at enough depth to imbibe moisture is the key to uniform emergence. Planting soybean seed too shallow can result in inconsistent soil moisture at the seeding depth and uneven emergence. Some studies have shown that planting at 1.5 to 2 inches provides more even emergence, however, soybeans should not be planted deeper than 2 inches. Planting depth should be checked regularly as it can fluctuate due to changing field conditions and planter weight.

Spring is a hectic time of year. In our haste to get things done, important agronomic factors can be overlooked. Because spring sets the stage for the entire growing season, it is critical to pay attention to factors impacting early crop development, make sound decisions, and avoid practices that will negatively impact crop development and yield.

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