Agronomist Cautions Growers to Weigh Risks of Early Planting

Early planted corn likely won't yield as well as corn planted in normal timeframe.

Published on: Apr 4, 2012

Despite the date on the calendar, corn planters have already been rolling across fields in many areas of the country. The mild winter and record-breaking early spring have left farmers itching to get into the field. Emerson Nafziger, an Extension Agronomist for the University of Illinois, notes farmers aren't the only ones putting seed in the ground. He says they already have corn emerging in plots at the University.

"We planted some here on March 16 and it came up in a week," Nafziger said. "I've been telling people this is the first time ever I think that we had corn by April 1 up and actually growing. We have certainly had warm spells in March before, but nothing like this where we have basically early May conditions starting in the middle of March."

Early spring has farmers already planting corn.
Early spring has farmers already planting corn.

Nafziger doesn't recall a planting season quite like this year's early onset. While some producers are already planting, he says others are being more cautious, and for good reason.

"One of the concerns we have is that we've seen the really early planting yield less than the latter plantings, and when we've seen a difference it is a fairly sizable one," Nafziger said. "It often seems to come when it gets cool after the crop is up and growing and there seems to be some physiological problems that the plant doesn't recover well from. I'm not as worried about frost I guess, although if you go back over the last 10 years I think we've had temperatures below freezing at least one day all the way up to the April 10 or April 15, if fact it would not be considered that unusual."

While there's no telling at this point how the very early planted corn will turn out, Nafziger points out that historically early planted corn doesn't typically out-yield corn planted in a more traditional timeframe

"We do have some data from planting in late March and early April and this is one of those cases where we don't expect corn planted this early to yield more than corn planted a month from now," Nafziger said. "That doesn't say that it can't happen, but based on our data it is pretty rare for late March, early April planting to yield more than late April planting. We still think the best time to put corn in the ground is somewhere around April 20 to April 25."

Nafziger believes each farmer needs to weigh the risk of planting early. He also cautions that with seed supplies on the short side, producers should try to avoid as many replant scenarios as possible.