Plant in Sweet Spots

Drought conditions during the early part of the decade brought into sharp focus the importance of planting seeds at appropriate moisture levels. Even a few hours of delay between tillage and planting can allow your soil to dry out enough to reduce yield potential.

By: Darrell Smith, Farm Journal Conservation and Machinery Editor

Picket-fence stands, with plants popping out of the ground within 24 to 48 hours of each other, lay the groundwork for high yields. After all, late-emerging corn plants, even if they grew from expensive seed, are just weeds. Seeds that don’t emerge, or die shortly afterward, are wasted money.spring planting

Because of the lingering effects of a hot, dry 2012 planting season, your 2013 crop requires special consideration. By planning ahead, you can reduce the risk to your emerging crop.

Conserve water as you plant. In many areas, water tables haven’t been replenished to normal levels, points out Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. While rain this winter and spring could change that, he recommends being ready to plant in dry conditions.

"Hang onto every ounce of moisture that’s in your soil," Ferrie says. "Be very careful to place seeds in moisture; don’t plant too shallow.

"If you till, your planter and soil finisher need to be in the field at the same time. If the planter breaks down, stop the soil finisher until it’s ready to go again. In 2012, I saw instances where a three-day window between soil finishing and planting destroyed the stand."

To conserve moisture this spring, run your planter right behind tillage operations. Even a few hours of delay between tillage and planting can allow your soil to dry out enough to reduce yield potential.

To retain moisture around the seed, make sure you apply sufficient tail pressure on the closing wheels to firm the soil above the seed. "If you use spoke-type closing wheels, which are designed  for no-till and wetter conditions, switch back to cast-iron or rubber closing wheels, or a combination, when you move to dry soil or conventional tillage conditions," Ferrie advises.

"Pack the soil over the seed trench to remove air pockets and prevent the soil from drying out before the seed germinates," he adds.

In dry conditions, be cautious with in-furrow starter fertilizer, which could burn the seed. "If you’re in doubt, shut the starter off," Ferrie says.

The right crop in each field. The planning you do before you go to the field helps determine whether a stand is lush and uniform or spotty. In every field, decide whether conditions are suitable for corn, or whether you might be better off to rotate to another crop.

Growing corn-on-corn might compound challenges lingering from 2012. "Last year taught us that water is even more critical than we believed," Ferrie says. "In addition to its obvious value, water flushes autotoxins—which are very soluble—from the previous corn out of the soil.

"If autotoxins build up because of a lack of rainfall, they restrict root growth. So you’ll need even more water than usual to grow a crop because the plants will have fewer roots.