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Gentlemen, Hold Your Horses?

Pressure mounting to plant as soon as possible.

The first clear window will likely seem like the green flag flying if you're stuck in a holding pattern, waiting to finish planting corn and soybeans. But just like at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, if you jump the starter's gun, there could be a penalty. Your fast start before soils are ready won't cost you laps or points, but it might cost you bushels of corn and extra dollars, depending on what the rest of the season is like.

Gary Steinhardt, Purdue University soils specialist, did pioneering work 25 years ago that showed the impact soil compaction can have on limiting root growth, causing tall corn, short corn syndrome, and even limiting yields. However, he also discovered that the impact of soil compaction is unpredictable. Much of the potential impact in terms of lower corn yields depends upon the weather conditions after planting and later in the growing season.

If rain continues and warm weather favors growth, the impact may be minimal. But if it turns hot and dry, especially before plants become well established, roots may struggle to work their way through compacted soil. His work also demonstrated that corn tends to be impacted more by soil compaction than soybeans, at least in terms of potential yield loss in the year soil compaction is created.

Unfortunately, soils compact the most when they're at the 'it's almost ready to work, but I think I'll go anyway stage.' And even soils with sizable sand content aren't immune to soil compaction.

On the flip side, Steinhardt has also talked over the past couple of years about the cost of doing business. By this, he means that if crops must go in during a spring like this one, or come out during a wet fall that would require leaving ruts to get the crop out of the field, sometimes that's what you have to do, even if it means you might create more soil compaction than you like.

Moving toward the latter stages of May, it may well be within the range to think of getting out there, even if you know it's still 'plenty heavy,' may be the cost of doing business. Further delays will begin to really put yields at risk, or if wet weather continues, could force changes in the cropping rotation.

The trick will be balancing the two this year. How much soil compaction you're willing to risk may depend upon your outlook for summer weather. If we're moving into a 1981 or 1983 scenario where dry weather followed wet springs, the 'cost of doing business,' if it means planting very wet, could be high.

Then again, isn't farming all about risk?

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