Early planting has its advantages and problems

LAFAYETTE, Ind. – In the spring, a farmer’s heart turns to planting. The ground below him may have other ideas, however. While the calendar heralds winter’s recent end, the first days of spring are often iffy for field work.

Farmers should realize the pluses and minuses of planting corn early, says Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service corn specialist.

Nielsen lists five benefits for planting early:

* More days available for planting, compared to planting later

* Additional days for crop development

* Earlier pollination, when summer temperatures and soil moisture are usually more favorable for growth

* Better crop standability nearer harvest

* Crop maturity earlier in the season, with quicker dry down Then there are the risks.

“Typically, cool soils through mid-April often result in lengthy germination and emergence periods, as well as lengthy periods for early seedling development until the crop is established,” Nielsen said. “It is not uncommon for emergence to take from two to three weeks after planting to occur, rather than a more desirable five to seven days.”

Variable soil temperatures can cause uneven germination and emergence, resulting in yield losses of 8 percent to 10 percent, Nielsen said. Cooler soils also slow the root development of young seedlings, increasing their risk to disease, insects and weather. So should a farmer put off planting? Not necessarily, Nielsen said.

“Within reason, avoid planting extensive acreages when soil temperatures are not conducive to rapid germination, emergence and early seedling development,” Nielsen said. “The definition of ‘conducive’ basically means average daily soil temperatures consistently greater than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Also, “avoid tilling or planting when soil moisture conditions are ripe for the creation of soil compaction,” Nielsen said. “Root development, especially depth of rooting, can be dramatically restricted when compacted tillage layers exist and lessen the crop’s ability to tolerate drier soil conditions later in the summer.”

For early planting, farmers should use high quality seed with greater vigor ratings, saving poorer quality seed lots for warmer conditions, Nielsen said. Planter-box seed treatments may provide additional protection from soil-borne insects.

“If a portion of your purchased seed corn is treated with Gaucho or Prescribe insecticides, use those seed lots first,” Nielsen said.

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