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The Wrong Days to Plant in 2011

The Wrong Days to Plant in 2011
Now it can be told- the jury is in!

No matter what the season, even this year, in one of the wettest, wackiest, most frustrating seasons in the history of Indiana agriculture, there were good days to plant and at least a stretch of two-to-three bad days to plant. On those days, you might have been better off to have left the seed in the bag. The problem is that you never know when those days are until it's too late. There may be some signs you can look for, but sometimes the drive to get the seed in the ground clouds your opinion or overrides the temptation to wait when it's already extremely late in the season.

That's why it's hard to be critical of those who planted May 21 to 23, but one of the Master Farmers from northern Indiana proclaimed that as the worst days for planting. Looking at central Indiana, I would second that nomination of dates. Corn planted then tends to be spotty, uneven, with yellow streaks here and there.

I remember that weekend well. My neighbor watched his tenant finish planting and told me how glad he was that it was in the ground. I looked at the mud on the road, the rows not closing in places because it was so wet, and scratched my head, but didn't comment. Sure enough, hard rains came within a couple days after that. The worst parts of the field never came up. The rest of it is there, and it could produce a decent corp. But it could also suffer if dry weather sets in late and soil compaction and its effects on root growth become an issue for corn.

Maybe this was the one year that it made sense to plant even if you suspected bad days, and when you may still profit form planting through that stretch. It was already May 21 and later, and with corn at around $6 per bushel, even 150 bushels per acre, well below the state average, would produce $900 per acre gross income. Even a real stinker, 120 bushels per acre, would still gross $720 per acre, and likely be profitable for most people, even those paying stiff cash rent.

That doesn't erase the fact that tillage done that day could have lasting effects for the next several seasons. The first pass is credited with 80% of the soil compaction damage to soil. Soybeans don't tend to show the consequences as much, but winter won't likely eliminate deep compaction very quickly. So even two years form now, when those fields are back in corn, if it's dry the effects of pushing the envelope, right or wrong, could show up. It was just an extra added blow that heavy rains in the next few days kept this year's stand from being what it should have been as well.

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