Soggy fields prevent planting

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COLUMBUS – With soggy fields from persistent wet weather plaguing Ohio and western Pennsylvania corn and soybean growers, timely planting appears to be getting further out of reach.

But Ohio State University Extension agronomists say a good crop is still possible, even if planting is done as late as the end of May or first week of June.

Missed targets. “If the world was perfect, we’d like to be finished with planting soybeans by May 20 and finished with corn by May 15, but that’s not going to happen this year, is it?” said agronomist Jim Beuerlein.

“Planting all depends on what the rain is going to do. We need two to three days of good drying – at a minimum – before we can do anything.”

Only 17 percent of the corn has been planted in Ohio as of May 12. This is nearly two weeks behind the five-year average pace and 74 percentage points behind last year. And with topsoil moisture rated above 67 percent saturated, growers won’t be rushing into their fields anytime soon.

In Ohio, only 6 percent of the state’s soybean acreage had been planted by May 12, compared to 70 percent in 2001, and 44 percent for the five-year average.

“We ended up with pretty late planting in 1996, where probably only 40 percent to 50 percent of the corn was planted by the end of May,” said OSU agronomist Peter Thomison. “With the weather conditions the way they have been lately, many people are thinking we are going to be running into a year like that again this season.”

Many growers are expressing concerns over delayed planting, but good yields are still possible, Thomison said. “But we could still be in pretty good shape and get good yields with corn planted as late as May 20 and even later.”

Corn can adjust. The corn crop’s ability to adjust to delayed planting may bring some relief to farmers’ growing frustrations. Many mid- to full-season hybrids decrease their heat unit requirements – known as growing degree days, or GDDs – or the time it takes for them to reach maturity before frost, the later they are planted in the growing season, Thomison said.

This ability offers farmers the opportunity to keep the hybrids they originally intended to plant, rather than switching to short-season hybrids.

“Traditionally, it was thought that a corn hybrid required a fixed number of GDDs, or heat units, to reach maturity,” Thomison said. “But we’ve learned in recent studies that corn can adjust to delayed plantings. Many hybrids actually require six to seven fewer GDDs per day of delayed planting, which gives us some flexibility with our hybrids.

“If a mid- to full-season hybrid was planted in late May, it wouldn’t have any problems in reaching maturity because of the decreased heat requirements.”

It’s a good idea to stick to mid- to full-season hybrids, even this late in the game, Thomison said. “Full-season hybrids have better yield potential than short-season hybrids,” he said. “Also, many short-season hybrids, especially those from more northern states like Michigan and Wisconsin, are not well-adapted to Ohio’s growing conditions, and grain quality and disease resistance won’t be as good.”

Ohio State will release information about which hybrids to use in delayed planting situations soon on the Crop Observation and Recommendation Network (C.O.R.N.) newsletter site: http://corn.osu.edu.

Switch to beans? While the publication may be useful for growers in their decision-making processes, the further delayed planting drags on the more growers may consider switching out of corn altogether and planting soybeans instead, Thomison said.

“Some growers are going to hold onto that corn until the end of May and, depending on the forecast, will decide then to keep their crop or switch to soybeans,” Thomison said.

“Regardless of maturity, growers are going to be looking at a wet harvest. They may not want to contend with a 24 percent or 25 percent moisture content in October because that adds to their drying costs. They may want to maximize their profits, and the bottom line may be that switching to soybeans may be more profitable for them.”

Soybean growers are seeing a bit more optimism during this time of delayed planting, Beuerlein said. “Soybeans adapt themselves to late planting conditions much more readily than corn does,” he said. “So even if soybean growers plant a little later than usual, the crop should still do OK. We could still see good yields even with planting by mid-June if we have good weather following planting and no disease.”

Seeding rates. Thomison and Beuerlein recommend increasing seeding rates 5 percent to 15 percent in corn and soybeans if planting continues into June, especially for no-till or reduced tillage fields.

Growers also should pay close attention to nitrogen management, Thomison said.

“Nitrogen that was applied to fields in April may be subject to denitrification. It all depends on the soil conditions and how much nitrogen was applied,” he said.

Looking ahead. Despite the immediate concerns growers have, the real problems could come later on in the summer, especially if weather conditions are hot and dry, Thomison said.

“What conditions will be like in July and August is really what is going to make the crop,” he said. “If soils now aren’t conducive for good root development and we get shallow roots, then we could have a really poor crop if hot weather hits us later in the growing season.”

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