Planting Corn Early?

Sleep easier – growing body of evidence says the practice pays dividends. Lon Tonneson

Published on: Apr 19, 2004

Ray Hall and his sons Larry and Tom, Burbank, S.D., finished planting corn Saturday. They got in 350 acres of corn between April 13 and April 18.

"I’m not worried that it is too early," says Hall, 78, who over his career has moved up corn planting from mid-May to mid-April.

The Halls have reputation in extreme southeast South Dakota for being the first to plant corn. Rays says that ever since they started planting in mid-April in the mid-1990s, they have never had a poor stand or had frost kill the crop.

Instead, they have been able to plant later maturing hybrids (about five extra days) that have given them approximately 20 bushel per acre more yield potential.

Working fields and planting early also reduces evaporation loss because it isn’t as hot and dry as later in the spring, and the crop has an opportunity to catch an addition shower or two before later planted corn is seeded.

"We have grown as much 200 bushel (per acre) corn as anyone," Ray says.

Tom Hall plants corn early. He and his brother, and father, Ray, got their crop in between April 13 and April 18 this year.

Ray isn’t the only one who says you may not need to worry about early-planted corn. Dale Hicks, University of Minnesota extension agronomist, says that early-planted corn has paid dividends in Minnesota the last two years.

Much of the early-planted corn in Minnesota the last two years wasn’t much to look at when it first emerged, he says. Spacing between plants wasn’t uniform and final stand counts were lower than expected.

But both 2002 and 2003 were excellent corn production years for Minnesota growers, he says.

The state average yield was a record 157 bushels in 2002 and an impressive 146 bushels per acre in 2003. In both years, much of the state’s corn acreage was planted before May 1.

Uniform stands -- both the spacing between plants and time of emergence — are important to give all plants equal competition for water and nutrients. However, non-uniform stands are productive and profitable because late-emerging plants do contribute to yield.

There will be years again like the past two where stands won’t be as good as growers would like," Hicks says. "But these early-planted stands have a higher yield potential than the later-planted stands that emerge more uniformly and appear to grow faster. Early planting sets the stage for high yields and the greatest profitability, he says.

There are two planting windows in Minnesota and the Dakotas, Hicks says. The first is between April 15 and May 5; then there’s a higher probability of rainfall that stops field work. The second window for planting begins about May 15. Times and durations of these planting windows vary every year, but the pattern is the same. For maximum profitability, don’t miss the first planting window," Hicks advises.