Fielding Farmer Questions for #plant19

It looks like Mother Nature has thrown us a curveball across the Corn Belt. Depending on your location, many farmers are seeing saturated soils that have been frozen for 60 days or more, and are now covered with 4-18 inches of snow. Meanwhile, others have standing water in their fields, with many rivers out of their banks and flooding adjacent farms.

In a “normal” weather scenario, by mid-March many of you would be prepping to plant within 30 days. But 2019 has been anything but normal.

We’re all getting eager for the 2019 growing season to begin. Here are a few questions we’ve heard from FBN farmer-members:

1. How have soil conditions affected the fertilizer that was applied in the fall?

Across the board, last year’s weather reduced the amount of fall preparation that was completed. Wet soils caused delayed harvest and reduced cover crop planting. So for many, fall fertilizer applications happened less than intended.

In many cases where soils didn't freeze early and stay frozen, nitrogen that was applied last fall probably leached below the root zone. Phosphorus should have remained in place if it was incorporated; however, if it was left on the soil surface, it may have washed away to low or off-target areas. Cover crops may show less growth (and thus less benefit) than normal due to the cool temperatures you may have experienced.

So, if you were worried because you missed out on those fall plans for fertilization and seeding cover crops, you actually could have saved money.

2. Will delayed planting impact yields?

Delayed planting dates are always a concern. Normally, earlier planted crops return the highest yields, but that can vary greatly in different genetics. And right now, it is too early to tell when soil temperatures and conditions will allow farms to be planted.

Right now, it’s best to stay with your current hybrids and varieties. Switching to shorter season options may lower your yield potential. And, if you’re tempted to hurry into the field, remember that planting when soil conditions are too wet will cause soil compaction in wheel tracks and sidewall compaction in the seed furrow.

3. Will germination and seedling growth be reduced from wet and cool soils?

It’s certainly possible. Here are a few reasons why:
  • In saturated soils, the planted seeds will imbibe the water, swell and attempt to develop into a seedling. If soil continues to be saturated, the seed may rot and die prior to plant’s emergence from the soil.

  • Cold water can result in the seed cell membranes becoming rigid and possibly rupturing. Symptoms are slow seedling growth, aborted radicals, corkscrewing and small fragile root systems.

  • Additional rains after planting can cause surface compaction and crusting, making emergence even more variable, resulting in poor populations or uneven stands.

  • Water saturated soils are deficient in oxygen. Without oxygen present in the soil, seedlings can experience poor root development, lessened leaf expansion and lack of photosynthesis. Saturated soils also result in significant N loss by denitrification.

  • Later emerging plants have to compete against larger plants for sunlight and nutrients, and this will result in lower yield potential.

4. Will disease pressure increase?

Seedling blights, such as fusarium, rhizoctonia and pythium, are most common in poorly drained and saturated soils. Fungicide seed treatments are an important consideration with these environmental conditions, but don’t expect them to be a cure-all if you plant into poor conditions.  Seedling plants that are submerged for 24-48 hours are subject to Crazy Top Fungus and Common Smut infection. These two diseases will make their appearance later in the growing season.

Takeaway: Be patient.

You aren’t alone. Most farmers feel they are behind right now. Stay with your current cropping plan. Planting 10 days later should have very little effect on yield potential, so wait for field conditions to be favorable. Take advantage of seed treatments to protect seed from disease and insects.  After planting, scout your fields often to check for germination, establishment and any other emergence issues.

Remember, this wild weather can sometimes have a few positives.
  • Soils contain a lot of available moisture, so seeds that are less dependent on rainfall to begin emergence. Soil moisture will also be available later into the growing season in fine-textured soils.

  • Compaction can be reduced by water penetration and freeze thaw cycles.

  • Some insects have high mortality rates in wet soil conditions and after severe winters.

  • Significant amounts of weed seed may have imbibed water and rotted.

  • A late planting may stimulate the market for a commodity price increase, providing a better marketing opportunity.

    Read this next: Seed Treatment Basics: Do You Know What’s Being Added to Your Seed?