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Spring has arrived!

After what seems like the longest winter ever, it looks like spring is finally here.  Our planting window is somewhat compressed, but 100% of yield potential can be expected for at least another three weeks on corn and five weeks for soybeans for most of the region.  Conditions and progress vary, as expected, across NuTech’s Central Region.  

Joe Kinscherff, our DSM from Pike County, IL, shared these photos with me last Saturday or corn and beans planted on April 5th.

In the northwest part of our region near Blooming Prairie, MN, NuTech dealer Brian Trius with Newry Ag, says they’re about 10 days out but the snow has melted and forecasted warm weather and rains will help get the frost out.

There’s been some talk of switching hybrids and I’m reluctant to even bring it up but I’d like to nip this talk in the bud as we are not even close to the “switch hybrid” date. Click here to read the article from University of Wisconsin.

Soil temperatures are rising quickly so it’s pretty much go time when soil conditions are fit. Table 1 in this article from Iowa State is a good guide for determining soil moisture:

Soil Moisture Remaining (Field Capacity) Moderately Coarse Texture Medium Texture Fine and Very Fine Texture
100% Upon squeezing, no free water appears on soil, but outline of ball is left on hand. Forms a ball, very pliable, slicks readily. Easily ribbons out between thumb and forefinger.
100-75% Forms a weak ball, breaks easily when bounced on hand. 
75-50% Will form a ball, but falls apart when bounced in hand. Forms a ball, slicks under pressure. Forms a ball, will ribbon out between thumb and forefinger.
50-25% Appears dry, will not form ball with pressure.  Crumbles, holds together with pressure. Somewhat pliable, will ball under pressure.
25-0% Dry, loose, flows through fingers. Powdery, crumbles easily. Hard, difficult to break into powder. 

A few other things to watch:

  • Iowa State reported seedcorn maggot in corn in southern Iowa earlier this week
  • Black cutworm flights have started (I caught my first moth this morning in an Iowa State sticky trap)

Iowa State is working with cooperators across the state to run pheromone traps for true armyworm and black cutworm moths.  These moths fly up from the south each spring and by monitoring the flights we can estimate when the larvae will emerge and begin feeding.  Iowa State will release predicted cutting dates in early May.

Agronomy, Corn, Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State University, Minnesota, Planting, Soybeans, Spring, University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin

Patience & Preparation

My topic of early planted soybeans last week almost seems laughable as we look at yet another week of well below average air and soil temperatures. April 3rd's 4-inch soil temperatures in Southeast and Northeast Iowa were 38° and 32° F, respectively. That’s a little over 11° cooler than the 20-year averages of 43.25° F for NE Iowa and 49.2° F for SE Iowa.

Click here to view Iowa soil temperature maps.

Be patient, according to a tweet from Dennis Todey, Director USDA Midwest Climate Hub and Ag Climatologist, Wednesday morning; weather models show warmer air moving into the upper Midwest toward mid-April, but not consistently warm. Dennis can be found on twitter at @dennistodey.

Obviously, this cooler weather will delay field activities and planting this spring. While that isn’t a good thing, it does give us additional time to fine tune planting, tillage and spray equipment. Avoiding breakdowns and repairs during this condensed planting window could be crucial.

Pinpoint Planting with These 4 Steps

Planter Maintenance Tips

One thing we certainly don’t want to do is plant into unfit soils. Please don’t jump the gun on this as soil conditions at planting are extremely important to maximize yields. According to Iowa State University Extension’s Corn Planting Guide, 100% of relative corn yield can be expected from April 20th thru May 5th, while 99% of yield can be expected until May 19th.

To put the planting work load in perspective, we can divide the total acres to plant by the average acres planted per day. Then figure about half the days will be fit to plant. Let’s say a farmer can plant 100 acres/day and has 1000 acres to plant; that’s 10 days of planting. If he starts on April 20th and will only be able to plant every other day, he will be done on May 10th, still within nearly 100% of relative yield.

The late start also gives us the opportunity to finalize or adjust any last-minute seed, fertilizer and/or herbicide plans. Shameless plug: We still have plenty of high yielding NuTech Seed available.

Things can get crazy when under pressure to get the crop in the ground and we can let emotion lead us to make bad decisions or, worse yet, jeopardize safety. Let’s make sure we have everything in place, a backup plan or two, and work efficiently, deliberately and most important safely.

Uneven Corn Emergence Penalties

To understand if or how much uneven emergence of seedling corn effects overall yield of late emerging plants, a number of Universities and on-farm research have studied the effect.

A Crop Science Abstract study of Response of Corn Grain Yield to variability of even emergence and variability in plant spacing found:

  • Compared with the uniformly early emerged plants, one out of six plants with a two- leaf stage delay in emergence reduced yield by 4%.
  • One out of six plants with a four-leaf stage delay reduced yield by 8%.

“These results indicate that corn is more responsive to emergence variability than plant spacing variability.”

“Variation in plant emergence reduced yield, whereas variation in with-row spacing did not affect yield.”

Lori Abendroth, Iowa State University agronomist, wrote “when smaller corn plants compete with larger ones, they are at a significant disadvantage in the fight for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Meanwhile, as the smaller plants battle for whatever resources they can grab, they drag down yields of the older plants. The result is the whole field suffers.”

“If one-fourth of the crop emerges just a week late, yields can drop about 6%. A two-week delay for half the plants sets up the crop for a 17% loss.”

Bob Nielsen, Purdue University: Uneven emergence is a problem that will haunt you the whole season.

University researchers from Wisconsin and Illinois have documented as much as a 15% decrease in yield when 25% of corn plants were delayed a week and a half.

Cousins Jason and Adam Watson of Villa Grove, Illinois reported on their own farm replicated research in Corn + Soybean Digest.

In 2013 and 2014 Jason flagged newly emerged seedings each day at noon, according to day of emergence. After hand harvesting the 40 foot row experiment they arranged the ears on the shop floor accordingly.

In 2013 the day one emergence (a population of 21,000 P/A) ears averaged 18 rows around 34-37 kernels long. This averaged 639 kernels per ear.

  • All day 2 emerged plants (a population of 9,000 P/A) ears had 16 rows around and were 34-37 kernels long. This averaged 568 kernel ears.
  • All day 3 emerged plants and later (a population of 5,000 P/A) lacked any ears at all or were “weeds”.

In 2014 weather conditions were much cooler after planting and the plants took 10 days longer to emerge.

  • Day one emerged plants resulted in a population of only 5,000 plants per acre.
  • Day 1 emerged plants the ears averaged 16.33 rows around 40.5 kernels long or 660 kernels per ear average.
  • Day 2 emerged plants (a population of 21,000 P/A) averaged 18 rows around and 38.66 kernels long or 696 kernels per ear average.
  • Day 3 emerged plants (a population of 7,500 P/A) averaged 11 rows around and 25.5 kernels long or 280.5 kernels per ear average.

The Watson cousins on farm research is something NuTech DSM’s, Dealers and customers could do on their own to evaluate how well their planters are setup for optimum emergence. Seed costs per acre are the same. But yields are an area for increasing or loosing dollars per acre!

The Progressive Farmer published an article in the April 2018 edition that also discusses this topic. Good read.

Suggestions to avoid uneven emergence:
Corn sometimes emerges unevenly because of environmental factors that growers can not control. Nevertheless, do what you can to manage what you can control.

  • Wait until the field is ready 
  • Monitor both soil moisture, soil temperature and short term weather forecast. Soil temperature should be at least 50 degrees in the coolest soil types of the field.
  • Avoid excessive tillage trips which dry or compact the seedbed.
  • Tilling when soils are too wet can produce cloddy soils, a major cause for uneven stands.
  • Monitor seed placement during planting to be sure there is uniform and good seed to soil contact. If not add seed firmers such as Keeton brand. Uniform seed depth is critical. Adjust seed openers, closing wheels and/or press wheel tension.
  • Manage residue. If row cleaners are used to wipe away residue don’t be too aggressive but enough that allows for a good clean seed bed.
  • Don’t plant any shallower than 1.5 inches. 2” to 2.5” is generally ideal.
  • Agronomists agree that excessive planter speed is the biggest deterrent of uniform seedling depth and emergence.
  • Checking seed to soil contact across different soil types in each field can increase your net income. After planting is too late for this year.

Planting & Cold Conditions

The 2018 planting season is coming up very quickly for most of us and has already started for our fellow growers in the Delta. As this planting season approaches, I look at current conditions and the 30-day forecast, things don’t look ideal. A majority of the corn belt has snow on the ground and if you don’t have snow, soil temperatures are still in the 30’s. The 30-day forecast for central Iowa, doesn’t give us temps above 60° until mid-to-late April. When you add the probability that we are going to get cold spring rains into that picture, it looks like our soil is going to take some time to warm up.

I know there are a lot of growers that like to get started as soon as they can, or once the soil is mostly fit to plant. I also understand that universities have research where they remind everyone that the earlier you plant corn, the higher probability of yield. What those papers/reports never talk about is the planting conditions. Cold temps delay emergence, give pathogens more time to get past the defense of our seed treatments, and ultimately end up reducing the stand and hurting yields. Now you throw soil conditions that are a bit wet to plant, but the universities calendar says go, so we go; smear sidewalls along with adding some compaction here and there. In this situation, our haste has reduced our stand and limited our yield across the field, or acres we planted, just to hit a calendar date.

There are extremes in the other direction as well. There are a few people that say, since corn doesn’t germinate until the soil gets to or above 50°, you shouldn’t plant until the soil gets to 50°. That’s fine if you only have a few acres to get over, and if that was the case I might even cherry pick a day here and there. The reality is that we have more acres to plant and what seems like less time to plant them. I still hold steady with my belief that we have more time than we think and we need to make sure we do our best job of planting each field we have.

Let’s look at some of the options growers have to combat everything that is thrown at them in a planting season.

First off, a good seed treatment. I know with the financial difficulty in the current agriculture economy, a lot of growers were looking for areas to trim costs, but a good multi-active ingredient fungicide and insecticide seed treatment is not something to cut back on. A good seed treatment, in my opinion, allows growers to get started planting before the soil temp is at or above 50°. I tell growers that if you have a good seed treatment and the 5-to-10-day forecast is for rising temps, go ahead and start at 45°.

Second, proper planting depth can reduce the effects of possible environmental changes (temperate drop, cold rain, etc.). If corn is planted between 2 - 2 1/2” there is more soil between the seed and surface to reduce temperature fluctuation. At this planting depth, the soil can actually warm up rain water by the time it gets to the seed, if the soil temperature is higher than the temperature of the rain.

Next, if the grower has starter on the planter, they can add additional fungicides in-furrow. There have been many studies done that show by adding a fungicide like Headline in-furrow, they can reduce some of the stress on the seed and seedling, which allows it to tolerate more or longer periods of unfavorable conditions. This gives the grower a wider window for planting.

Lastly, know when to stop planting when conditions are forecast to be unfavorable. If possible, planting needs to stop 24-36 hours before a cold or chilling rain. The seed usually takes in enough moisture for germination in the first 24-36 hours after it is placed in the ground. If the moisture is considerably colder than the seed, it can have adverse effects on the seed and plant that will/may come from it. It can corkscrew underground, it can cause it to leaf out underground which prevents it from emerging, or the seed will not even germinate. All of these effects have a negative relationship to yield.
When you look at all the options growers have to combat and eliminate these planting issues, a cold, wet spring doesn’t look as bad.

Agronomy, Cold, Corn, NuTech Seed, Planting, Seed, Soybeans, Spring

Planting Soybeans: How Early Will You Go?

More and more farmers are planting soybeans earlier, some even start planting beans before corn, and some have a dedicated soybean planter and corn planter going at the same time. The University of Nebraska does a great job explaining the benefits of planting soybeans early in the following article (click to read): Why Planting Soybeans Early Improves Yield Potenial.

Phil Pickett, our DSM from Elkhart, IL, planted 4 acres of our 3361L soybean last Friday, March 23rd. The early planting is an experiment and Phil will update progress every Friday on his Facebook page. He no-tilled into a cereal rye cover crop, the soil temperature was 42° F. Phil just informed me that the beans are sprouting today and they’d received 4” of rain. Click here to view the video & click here to visit Phil's Facebook page.

We can use some best management practices to minimize risk when planting early. First is to use a quality seed treatment such as NuTech Seed SmartCote® Extra or SmartCote® Supreme. The insecticide component of the seed treatment is systemic and will prevent the spread of soybean mosaic virus and bean pod mottle virus by controlling overwinter bean leaf beetles. Bean leaf beetles are drawn to the first emerging soybean fields and are a vector of the earlier mentioned bean diseases.

(Photo: Bean leaf beetle feeding on newly emerged soybeans in the unifoliate stage. Photo credit: Marlin Rice.)

DuPont™ Lumisena™ is the highly effective fungicide portion of SmartCote® Extra and SmartCote® Supreme, which protects soybeans from damping off diseases which can be a greater risk when planting early into cooler soils.

Other management practices that don’t cost you a penny include:

  • select varieties with good emergence scores
  • start in fields known to warm up quicker with good internal drainage
  • tilled fields will warm quicker than no-till fields
  • wait until soil temps are near 50° F and there’s a warming trend for 48 hours after planting
  • don’t mud them in just to get a jump on the calendar (several of the agronomy service calls I went on last year were because of planting in soils too wet which resulted in stunted, necrotic plants and poor root systems)
  • start small to gain experience and confidence for future early plantings

(Photo: Stunted soybeans from planting into wet soils. Photo credit: Chris AdamsStunted soybeans from planting into wet soils. Photo credit: Chris Adams)

We’ve all heard about the 60+ bushel yields from June planted beans and we know soybeans are very forgiving when it comes to planting date, stand density, leaf defoliation, etc. That said, if conditions are right you might try to squeeze out a little more yield with early planted soybeans.

I’d like to pass along a couple cool things from our friends at the University of Wisconsin. Soybean Cyst Nematode (SCN) has become the single most damaging pest of soybeans in the U.S. The Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board is sponsoring free SCN testing for Wisconsin farmers.  The following link contains information on the testing.

The WSMB Free Soybean Cyst Nematode Testing Program
Although we’re a little early for replant, I’d like to pass along information on the Bean Cam app from the University of Wisconsin. The app allows you to take photos of a suspect soybean stand or enter actual plant densities and will make recommendations for replant decisions.

Soybean Replant (Bean Cam)

Above all, be safe and aware during the most important step of the growing season: planting.