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Don't Let the Calendar Dictate When You Plant

January 24, 2014
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
Bob Kochendofer small
Bob Kochendorfer likes to be in the field planting corn by end-of-April, but he lets soil temperature and the weather forecast guide his start date.  

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Early planting has its benefits, but be sure to weigh your options before heading to the field.

The so-called polar vortex gripping much of the country right now has many farmers dreaming of spring and planting season. That’s true for veteran corn grower, Bob Kochendorfer. "Earlier and earlier every year it seems" is how Kochendorfer describes the start of planting season for corn on his south central Michigan farm near Jonesville.

He says advancements in seed technology, equipment and agronomic know-how have moved the starting date for corn planting in his area from the end of May, just a generation ago, to late April today.

Kochendorfer, other farmers, and agronomists cite a number of benefits associated with early planting. For one, the crop is often able to flower before mid-summer heat and dry soils can take their toll on pollination. Early planting can also help minimize the impact of some insects, lengthen corn growth and development time, and give the crop more time to dry down in the field prior to harvest.

The latter is one of Kochendorfer’s favorite early planting benefits. "A lot of times I can avoid paying so much out-of-pocket for drying costs, once corn is in the bin," he notes.

Even so, the veteran corn grower is unwilling to pull his planter into the field just because the calendar registers a specific date. Instead, he uses a variety of factors to determine the planting start date, a decision he says that almost always pays off at harvest.

Part Science, Part Art

Having an adequate soil temperature is Kochendorfer’s first and primary consideration. He says experience over the years has shown him that soil temperature can support or stall corn emergence and growth.

"I typically start planting when soil temperatures reach between 50 and 52 degrees Fahrenheit," he notes. "I also consider the weather outlook for the following week or so. I want to know, if at all possible, that it won’t rain or turn cold during that timeframe."

Imad Saab, DuPont Pioneer seed researcher, agrees with Kochendorfer’s strategy.

"Early planting carries an increased risk of stand loss due to the potential for damaging frosts and cold snaps in early spring, which can then require replanting," he explains.

Saab also cautions farmers who are planting into fields with low organic matter. "With lighter soils planted early, be aware of the potential for large temperature swings that can affect emergence, especially if nighttime temperatures dip into the 40’s," he adds.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Mid-February 2014

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