Hurry up and wait: Use rain delays to make planting and crop decisions, experts say

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SALEM, Ohio — Rain showers. Tile washouts. Mud.

Thanks to Mother Nature, you’re already falling behind schedule with spring tillage and planting.

In the past week, farmers have been spotted chisel plowing, planting oats and making progress across parts of the Farm and Dairy coverage area.

It’s been slow going, though, with USDA data showing roughly 20 percent of the Ohio crop planted by April 20. That lags behind last year’s 25 percent and well below the four-year average of 46 percent.

But according to experts, now’s not the time to get antsy about planting oats, corn or soybeans. A handful of Ohio State University extension experts and crop consultant Bill Lehmkuhl weighed in with tips to get ready to make planting — and the growing season — a successful one.

  1. Shoot for perfection

  2. If you can’t get into the fields, get the planter inside the farm shop and go over it with a fine-tooth comb, Ohio State ag engineer Randall Reeder suggests, and get that planter working perfectly.

    A handful of Reeder’s students who live on farms have mentioned they’re taking entire weekends to go over and fine-tune every planter adjustment, he said.

    “In general, farmers should spend more time on adjustment than they do,” Reeder said.

    Bill Lehmkuhl agrees, noting little adjustments can yield big results. Lehmkuhl, who does consulting work from his office in Minster, Ohio, and teaches planter clinics in 15 states each year, said checking no-till coulter depth should be a priority.

    The coulter should be 1/4- to 3/8-inch above the double disk seed opener, he said, which is easily measured by lowering the opener onto a board and checking to see that the coulter has enough room to spin.

    Lehmkuhl also suggests checking spring adjustment on each row unit to be sure there’s not too much down pressure on the planter, and that the planter runs level.

    “A lot of guys run the thing nose downhill, which changes the pitch and angle of the seed tube and makes coulters run too deep, too,” he said.

  3. Limit field passes

  4. Keep time expended on tillage passes and other preparatory operations to a minimum, Ohio State Extension specialists say, since it will provide minimal benefits if it results in further planting delays.

    No-till offers the best option for planting on time this year, and field preparation should be limited to leveling ruts left by last year’s harvest. Disk or field cultivate very lightly to level.

    Final tillage passes just before planting can be beneficial in suppressing weeds, but may not be practical this year.

  5. Wait until your neighbor starts planting, then start the next day

  6. So jokes Randall Reeder, who says it’s far better to wait a day or two than to sow seeds into ground that’s too wet or too cold.

    Lehmkuhl also urges farmers to wait for optimal ground conditions, especially for soil temperatures to warm to 50 degrees and stay there.

    “You’re at the mercy of the weather, understood, but if the first drink of that seed is cold water, you’ll have cold shock and all kinds of problems,” he said.

    Yields may or may not be reduced this year due to delayed planting, but effects of soil compaction from “mudding the seed in” wet ground can reduce yield for several years to come, Ohio State research shows.

    Reeder also suggests planting it right the first time, since there’s almost nothing worse than having to replant acres of corn or soybeans at the end of May.

    “Frost is out of your control, but avoid making decisions that might mean replanting,” he said.

  7. Take it easy

  8. Lehmkuhl said the easiest change to make across the board is to slow down when planting. Ideal speed is 4 1/2 to 5 miles per hour, he said, noting he’s seen farmers geared at 6 to 6 1/2 mph flying across fields.

    “You can’t race to get it done or beat the weather,” he said.

  9. Stay ahead of the weeds

  10. Reeder said he recently read an article that said corn plants can ‘see’ weeds, and the plants’ growth suffers because of it, so it’s important to apply a pre-emergent herbicide in a timely manner.

    Reeder says it’s better to apply too early than too late.

    “Don’t let the weeds get too big thinking, ‘Oh, they’re not that big and not hurting the corn that much yet,’ because they are,” he said.

  11. Not so fast

  12. Don’t worry about switching hybrid maturities unless planting is delayed to late May, the experts say.

    If planting is possible before May 20, plant full season hybrids first to allow them to exploit the growing season more fully.

    Research in Ohio and other Corn Belt states generally indicates that earlier maturity hybrids lose less yield potential with late plantings than the later maturing, full season hybrids.

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

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