Plant Corn in the Mud Not the Answer

Poor start translates into poor finish.

Published on: Mar 16, 2009

Garbage in, garbage out. As the calendar rolls closer to planting season, it's a good axiom to keep in mind. Some weather sources are talking about a wet spring. Other sources are siding with a dry April, tied to La Nina weather cycles. If the 'wet' predicting- forecasters turn out to be right, planting in less than ideal conditions just to get corn out early may be the wrong thing to do.

True, early planting has a proven track record for success. Trials at places like Beck's Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind., in their practical research plots, show a clear advantage over time for planting early, meaning in April. But it's important to read the footnotes. Land where those plots are located is typically well-tiled. That means it's easier to find a time to plant when the soil isn't so tacky that the seed slot is staying open despite press wheels rolling over it, or that the sidewalls aren't being smeared by soil compaction.

If you get the right set of weather conditions, even planting in those conditions might work. But gambling on getting the right set of conditions where you won't be penalized for taking a big risk is mighty risk in and of itself.

Jeff Phillips produced 180 bushel per acre last year in plots by waiting until the last week of May to plant. If he could have planted in late April, would it have made more? Maybe, perhaps even it's likely, but no one can say for sure. What is sure is that if he had to plant in wet soils to get the corn in the ground at that time, it would have been a risky move.

Wet soils prevented him from planting the plots early last year. In the Corn Illustrated plots at Edinburgh, Dave Nanda , an agronomist and plant breeder, was able to plant a population study May 5. The soil was in very good condition at planting. However, a few days later cool, wet conditions set in. there's always a wrong day to plant almost every season, and May 5 and 6 in that part of the country was it. The problem is that there are no flashing lights or road signs that tell you when that wrong day will be. As it turns out, partly because it turned dry in August and the soil was droughty at Edinburgh anyway, those plots topped out around 145 bushels per acre, far less than the late-planted corn near Romney, where soils were higher in organic matter and deeper.

You are the one who ultimately must decide when to plant. But nearly every agronomist agrees that if you plant in the mud at the seed level, you're taking a risk that may or may not backfire.