Dakota Farmer

Don’t rush spring planting

Ag Mafia: With late snowpack impacting much of the region, start your fields off right.

March 31, 2023

4 Min Read
cut corn stalks in a snow-covered field
PLANTING DELAYS: With snowpack still covering many fields across the region, don’t rush during spring planting to ensure the best stand in 2023.Richard Hamilton Smith/Getty Images

by Kyle Okke

When Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Feb. 2, we knew we were in for six more weeks of winter, with the anticipation that spring would be going out like a lion. Here we are, six weeks after his prediction, still seeing fields covered in snowdrifts.

We can set a realistic expectation for how spring 2023 will be shaping up: cold and wet. It is always a good idea to be prepared, especially when the planting window is going to be compressed. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planting this spring to ensure you start with the best stand possible:

Field conditions. One of the biggest impacts to stand establishment when the spring window is compressed is planting a field that is not ready. This sounds like plain old common sense but funny things happen when we get in a hurry.

The combination of excessive downforce, seeding depth and wet soils can lead to yield-robbing issues that last the entire season, especially if things dry out after planting. Most know I’m referring to sidewall compaction — and this is not just a corn thing, but all crops. I’m even talking to you spring wheat growers.

So how do you avoid sidewall compaction? It’s easy:

  • Don’t plant in too wet of field conditions.

  • Don’t seed shallow.

  • Monitor your downforce.

  • Use the appropriate closing wheels.

There is a plethora of information available to get your planter set right, so let’s lean on those experts and focus on seeding depth.

Seeding depth. Many will have the urge during a cold, wet spring to seed their crop as shallow as possible, figuring the soil has more than adequate moisture and will be warmer, which would allow for faster germination and emergence. These all sound like great things in a delayed spring, but allow me to bring us back to the reality.

Shallow soils (1 inch or less) are most prone to temperature fluctuations. Think of the soil as a blanket for your seed; the heavier the blanket, the more stable the temperature. Soil at 2 inches holds a more stable temperature than at 1 inch.

For corn, having soil temperatures reaching into the 40 degrees F during the first 48 hours of being planted can lead to imbibitional chilling and some major establishment issues. So remember, deeper is better in this regard.

Shallow-seeded corn at less than 1.5 inches will also mean that more nodal or brace roots are growing above the soil line versus below. This is important for standability later in season when wet soils will be looser and roots will not be anchored enough to hold the plant upright in adverse winds.

Under dry soil conditions, brace roots will not be able to penetrate into soil. Then, a symptom called rootless corn occurs, where the corn cannot hold itself up as it starts its rapid growth. So remember, deeper is better.

And as promised, regarding sidewall compaction, seeding depth matters. Setting disc openers at the proper depth will also allow for more soil fracturing, lessening the strength of the sidewall created and allowing for more root penetration (which is what you want). So again, deeper is better.

Seeding speed. Time is money, and getting the job done faster has become more important than ever. Planter manufacturers have answered that beckoning call and developed planters that can singulate seed at speeds up to 12 mph from the meters through the seed tubes.

Your equipment might be able to handle high planting speeds, but your field may not. Soils in an individual field can vary in many ways — moisture, texture and topography, to name a few. Can your planter maintain proper seeding depth with seed-to-soil contact at those speeds?

This is a loaded question that can only be answered by getting out of your planter to see for yourself. While the last thing you want to do in a compressed spring is get out and dig for seed, that is the only way to know you are doing a good job to establish a vigorous stand.

So remember, you only get one shot to get your crop in 2023 off to the right start. Take your time, get out and assess how well your planter is doing its job. Your crop will thank you later.

Okke is one-third of Ag Mafia and an independent crop consultant. He writes from Dickinson, N.D.

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