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Don't Jump the Gun on Planting

April 14, 2014
By: Sara Schafer, Farm Journal Media Business and Crops Editor
planter
  

Even if the calendar says it should be time to plant, make sure your fields and soil temperatures are optimal.

Sure, you have cabin fever. Your shop is probably cleaner than it’s ever been. You’ve organized, re-organized and organized again your tool and bolt collection. You’ve changed the oil on every machine and the planter has been ready for weeks.

But, don’t be too anxious about hitting the fields just yet. "We are not late by any means," says Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Agronomist. "During the last few years, farmers have learned that May-planted corn can out yield April-planted corn."

Ferrie says farmers must wait to do tillage, spring fieldwork and planting when the fields are fit and not pay as much attention to the calendar.

Jason Franck, agronomist for Carson and Barron Farms in Rowley, Iowa, agrees. "If you get out there with a tillage machine you just won’t know when to stop," he says. His advice is to put a game plan together for fieldwork and planting so you are ready to go when it does warm up.

Reduce Hurtful Soil Compaction

"The danger of causing soil compaction is very high right now," says Sjoerd Duiker, professor of soil management at Penn State University. "The effects of soil compaction caused now may haunt us the rest of the season, and even in years to come."

Before taking your machinery to the field, Duiker suggests doing the "ball test." Grab a handful of soil and mold it in your hand. If it sticks together as a ball, the soil is too wet for field operations. Don’t only take soil from the surface; also take some soil from a foot deep or so.

"It may be impractical to wait until the entire field is fit, but at least check that 80-90% of the field is ready before starting field work," he says. Read more about how to avoid the dangers of soil compaction.

Franck says he knows some farmers are behind in tillage efforts due to last year’s late harvest. But overdoing tillage in the spring can be detrimental, especially in dry areas. "Moisture is a big concern for a lot of areas this year," he says. "I wouldn’t go much deeper than 6 inches in case we don’t get much rain this spring."

Aim for a Strong Crop Start

"Mistakes made during crop establishment are usually irreversible, and can put a ceiling on a crop's yield potential before the plants have even emerged," says Peter Thomison, an Ohio State University Extension agronomist. "Avoid early planting on poorly drained soils or those prone to ponding. Yield reductions resulting from ‘mudding the seed in’ are often much greater than those resulting from a slight planting delay."

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