Yes, it's cold outside and there's likely snow on the ground, maybe several inches of it. But the calendar doesn't lie. It's mid-February, and planting season is looming larger on the horizon than you might think.
Tracy Mabry, Morgantown, planted soybeans successfully on February 28 last year. Whether he can do that this year might be a stretch. The one thing he won't compromise on is suitable field shape at planting time. Since he works the soil lightly before planting, instead of no-tilling, it must be dry enough for him to field cultivate and plant before he will go.
Once soils do shape up ant the calendar heads into April, how will you pick the right planting window? Almost anyone who raised corn in Indiana last year can tell you what the wrong days to plant in '06- May 7 to May 9. Ten days of rain and cool weather set in starting May 9, putting even the best genetics and seed treatments to the test. Some combinations made the grade, but others failed. Replant percentages were high last spring, and a large share of replanted fields of corn, at least, were originally planted in the May 7 to 9 window.
There is no soothsayer or gypsy with a crystal ball who can tell you what the right window for ideal planting for '07 will be in advance. May 7 to 9 just might be the sweet spot this year. In hindsight, it may be clear, but not when you're deciding whether to go to the field and plant or not.
Long-term weather forecasting is improving, but the accuracy still has a ways to go. Most long-term forecasts called for an average to rough December, followed by mild weather in January and the rest of the winter. Instead, December was a pussycat and early and mid-January were mild, but very wet. Then late January through today were anything but mild, averaging nearly 20 degrees below normal and bringing multiple outbreaks of snow. That's more than just a few days against the grain in an otherwise mild weather pattern.
So long-term forecasts call for a cooler than normal, perhaps wetter than normal spring, In other words, it could be a backwards spring, or at least that's what they say. Will they be more right on the spring forecast than the winter forecast? Who knows?
So what can you do? Pick your ideal target dates when you would like to start planting corn and/or soybeans, agronomists say. Then as the time approaches, rely on short-term forecasts and your own knowledge of short-range weather patterns to make the final decision.
One strategy that works for Sonny Beck, Beck's Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind., is to find a three-day window for starting corn planting, especially if it's early. Experience tells him that if corn seeds have three days of relatively warm soil and air temperatures to get a start, they've got a whole lot better chance of surviving and eventually thriving than if cool, wet weather sets in soon after planting. What made '06 such a classic example was that the cold front that brought rain and cooler temperatures on May 9, halting planting, became stuck over Indiana and the eastern Corn Belt, keeping conditions miserable for the next 10 days or more. Even modern genetics can only handle so much in terms of unfavorable conditions.
So keep long-term forecasts in mind, But when it comes to picking 'THE' day to plant, pull out your knowledge of how fronts and highs and lows move to determine if a certain day should be a 'go' or 'no go' for planting.