4 Tips to Mitigate Early-Season Stress


Tyler Steinkamp, agronomist

The first weeks following planting set the trajectory for your crop’s ability to meet its genetic yield potential. Decisions made early in the season can’t be undone and will affect how crops mature. Before your planter hits the field, consider these four tips to set your crops up for success:

  1. Review seed placement and management plans. Placing seed has become more of a science recently because we have plenty of technology tools to help map and model fields. Review historical yield data and rely on your seed dealer’s knowledge of how a particular hybrid performs to place seed in an environment where it will thrive. Local trial data can give you a good idea of what you can expect from your genetics.

Remember to manage for the yield you’re hoping to get. High-yielding seed varieties require more intensive management. Mitigate risk when making seed choices by striking a balance between reliable, consistent performers and top-yielding genetics.

Before planting, be sure to review seed ‘Response-To’ Scores for variables like planting population, nitrogen and fungicide to help fine-tune management plans based on your seed selection. According to seven years of Answer Plot® Program data, there is a potential loss or gain of 90 bushels per acre in corn based on these four factors: response to continuous corn, response to population, response to nitrogen and response to fungicide.

  1. Hold out for suitable conditions. This can’t be overstated. It’s easy to get anxious when the first warm days of spring roll around, but planting into poor soil conditions can only create problems for the rest of the season. Iowa State University reports that corn may take three weeks to emerge when soil temperatures average 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of planting. Comparatively, corn can emerge in 10 to 12 days when soils average 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Plants that emerge more quickly are less susceptible to early-season fungal diseases and insect damage, and they tend to develop more even stands.

If you have fields that hold moisture and are concerned about planting into cool, wet soils, consider fungicide and insecticide seed treatments to help protect seeds until they’ve emerged.

  1. Give plants an early boost. Germination is one of the most critical physiological processes of a plant’s life cycle. Starter fertilizers and plant growth regulators are a good way to make sure crops have what they need for a vigorous start. Plant growth regulators such as Ascend® SL and Optify®/Stretch deliver a number of benefits to growing crops, including fueling stem elongation, stimulating sugar movement and signaling nutrient availability. Plant growth regulators can also help speed up the germination process, which is especially important if you’re planting into cool, wet soils.

Starter fertilizers applied at planting can help stimulate root development and increase nutrient availability to small plants. Zinc and phosphorus are two nutrients that are commonly found in many starter fertilizers — both of which are vital to early plant growth and tend to be more limited when soils are wet and cool. Spoon-feeding nitrogen, potassium and manganese at planting is a good way to help ensure nutrients are available to plants when they’re needed.

  1. Keep an eye on fields. Planting season can be hectic, but don’t forget to monitor fields as plants emerge. Taking population counts can help determine if there were germination issues that may require extra attention. Observe plant spacing and growth stage differences between plants to evaluate whether a replant may be necessary. Scout fields early and often once plants have emerged.

It’s never too early to start thinking about postemergence weed control, because you’ll get the best herbicide results when you target weeds before they are 4 inches in height. Some weeds can grow up to an inch a day under optimal conditions, so that doesn’t give you much time to knock them out. You’ll get better weed control when targeting smaller weeds, and adding adjuvants to your tank can help keep herbicides on target for better spray coverage. Weeds are most competitive with crops before canopy closure, so mitigating early weed stress is essential for maximizing yield potential.

While not all plant stresses can be eliminated, there are a number of management practices that can help mitigate them. Placing seed correctly, planting into a good seedbed, using starter fertilizers, and scouting early and often are all practices that can help ensure your crops get off to a strong start.

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