SALEM, Ohio — The rain may appear like it will never stop long enough for fields to dry out and planting to begin, but all farmers know it will.
Just when that will happen is the question, and what plans need to be changed in order to get the best yield from the shortened season.
One thing to note is that Ohio, Pennsylvania and even West Virginia farmers are not alone in the pain they are feeling not being able to get into the fields. It is an issue for much of the United States at this point. Even states that traditionally are ahead are behind, such as Indiana, Illinois and even Iowa.
Once the time is right, there are some things producers can do to improve the growing season.
Getting job done
Peter Thomison and Robert Mullen, Ohio State University Extension specialists, remind farmers to be patient. This means don’t jump into the fields as soon as the sun finally comes out.
“…care should be taken to avoid tillage and planting operations when soil is wet,” the experts said in a prepared release.” Yield reductions resulting from ‘mudding the seed in’ are usually much greater than those resulting from a slight planting delay.”
Yields may be rescued somewhat this year, even with delayed planting, but effects of soil compaction can reduce yield for several years to come.
They agree that regional producers don’t see significant yield reductions due to late planting until mid-May or even later in some years.
Corn growers can test the moisture level of fields by molding the soil into a ball with their hands. If the ball will not easily crumble, it’s too wet to plant.
Edwin Rickey and Lloyd Murdock, extension soil specialists with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, are also urging farmers to wait for optimal planting conditions to ensure they get good yields.
The researchers said planting, tilling or driving in wet fields can cause compaction. When planting into wet soils, sidewall compaction can occur due to the opening discs smearing the sidewall of the planter furrow. When sidewall compaction occurs, plant roots will grown mainly in the planting furrow.
The key to preventing the sidewall compaction is very simple. It is simply waiting until the ground is dry enough to plant.
Corn growers can test the moisture level in their fields by molding the soil into a ball with their hands. If the ball will not easily crumble, it’s too wet to plant.
Purdue Extension Corn Specialist Bob Nielsen said planting dates are important, but other factors can also impact yields, like insects, weather and seed.
He agrees that mudding in the crop just to get it in the ground is unwise.
“‘Mudding in’ a crop early to avoid planting late will almost always end up being an unwise decision,” he said.
He says it’s “too early to fear-monger about the anticipated late start to planting” because growers have the machinery capacity to catch up quickly once the weather and soil conditions become favorable for planting.
According to Illinois economists Darrel Good and Scott Irwin, Illinois farmers planted 60 percent of the crop in a given week and in the same year, Indiana producers were able to get 55 percent of the crop in the ground during that week.
In Iowa in 1992, farmers were able to get 64 percent of the corn crop planted in one week.
Ohio farmer and Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association Chairman John Davis agreed producers need to keep perspective.
“In 1995, for instance, we didn’t even plant soybeans until the third weekend in June,” Davis said in a news release.
He said it is not time to panic yet. The optimum planting dates for corn in Ohio are April 20-May 10. If the corn ins planted in that time period with good weather, most of the yields will be OK.
According to Penn State, in some situations certain planter attachments may increase the optimum planting window.
Coulters: The bubble coulter is very likely to cause side-wall compaction. Use 13-wave coulters or turbo coulters instead.
Depth-control wheels: Use a depth-control wheel that does not press down right next to the double-disk openers (made by Case-IH). This avoids packing the soil next to the seed and leaves soil loose on top.
Closing wheels: Avoid using cast iron or rubber closing wheels under high pressure to get that seed slot closed. Spiked, rippled or posi-close closing wheels are available that do not pack the soil on top of the seed while still closing the seed slot.
Carl Zulauf, ag economist with Ohio State University, said he doubts that the planting delays as of April 28 has caused farmers to shift corn acres to soybean acres.
“I would think, based on past observation, that this shift would require planting delays past the middle of May,” Zulauf said.
But the delay may mean a subtle shift, he added, explaining “the delay at present has reduced the likelihood that farmers would plant more corn than expected because they finished early and would take advantage to shift one field or so to corn from soybeans.
“In other words, corn acres are probably going to be less than they would have been with good to excellent planting weather,” said Zulauf.
Zulauf must be thinking like most farmers in the region.
Rob Yost, a farmer in western Pennsylvania, said he is starting to get worried about the excessive rainfall and delay in planting.
As of April 27, he had a week to 10 days before the worry turns into anxiety.
And to make matters worse, it appears most farmers are sharing the same thought of switching to a shorter maturity day length. He said switching to a different hybrid at the end of May could be difficult or impossible because Yost is hearing farmers across the country are having the same thought, and can’t get seed.
He said if he gets delayed into June, he will be switching over to more soybeans.
Ohio State’s Peter Thomison is telling farmers not to worry about switching hybrid maturities unless planting is delayed to late May. If planting is possible before May 20, he recommends farmers plant full season hybrids first to allow them to exploit the growing season more fully.
To read about the forecast, click here for this story’s sidebar.
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