Planting Watch-Outs When Conditions Are Wet

LeRoy Toohey

Mar 22, 2019

With the heavy rains and/or heavy snows in parts of the U.S., you may be considering starting planting operation in less than desirable planting conditions because of what the date on the calendar reads. But, be patient.Getting off to a good start with proper field conditions is critical to maximizing yield potential. In most cases, planting in less than desirable conditions cannot be made up later in the year.

Excessive moisture is a top concern this year in many areas, and there a number of things we need to consider this planting season.

Consider the following items while you patiently wait for the weather and soil conditions to improve:

Nutrient availability

It is important to consider the environmental conditions and how they could be affecting the crops nutrient dynamics throughout the growing season. For example, in cold soils in the spring, zinc is less available to the crop, but zinc is also a critical nutrient for early root development. In dry conditions, crops can benefit greatly from higher potassium levels, however this nutrient is taken up in smaller quantities in dry soils. In saturated soil, root growth slows or even stops all together and, as a consequence, crops generally take up less nutrition from the soil, hindering overall growth and yield production.

Seedling diseases

If you’ve ever dealt with a soil-borne pathogen on your farm, your best bet is to consider it the new normal. When rotten seed is found in the soil with no insect presence, chances are good that it may be from disease. Phytophthora and rhizoctonia are two diseases that like wet, warm soils, while pythium and fusarium prefer wet and cool soils. While these diseases are all different, taking advantage of a fungicide seed treatment can keep them at bay while your crop emerges and gets ready to begin the growth process.

Early bugs

Insects can overwinter in crop residue, surrounding fields and nearby tree lines. Subsurface insect pests are notorious for causing  stand reduction. In corn or soybeans, this could include wireworms, seedcorn maggots and white grubs. There are no rescue treatments for subsurface insects, so use an insecticide treated seed or an in-furrow insecticide to ward off an insect related replant.

Equipment: Row cleaners

Residue in the trench can greatly impact the emergence of germinating seeds. That’s why row cleaners can be an important part of planting, especially in corn on corn and minimum tillage situations. Row cleaners should consistently ride on top of the soil, and should only disturb debris on and just below the soil surface. Any deeper and they can push soil to the side of the row, leading to uneven planting depth.

Equipment: Planter levelness

Whether you have a 3 pt. planter or a pull-type planter, ensuring levelness from left to right and front to back is very important.

Left to right levelness ensures that all units are planting at the same relative depth. Unlevelness from left to right can cause uneven seeding depth, seed skips and issues with the furrow not closing exposing the seed or closing to firmly which may cause surface compaction.

Levelness from front to back ensures that furrow opens, row cleaners, press wheels and other attachments are working correctly. Improper pitch can put unwanted down pressure on furrow openers and/or row cleaners.

Equipment: Down force springs and/or air bags

Most planters today have springs or air bags which improve planting depth uniformity and help to limit the bounce of the planter while planting. Monitoring and adjusting down force if significant change occurs in soil conditions (for example, going from very wet soil to very dry soils) must be considered.

Row units that follow tractor tire tracks may require more adjustments. Inadequate down force can amplify bounce resulting in shallow seed placement.  Excessive down force may accelerate wear on the ground-engaging components which may adversely impact early plant development.

Equipment: Tire pressure

Ground-driven planters with pneumatic tires should have the pressure checked daily. The tires control the seed, fertilizer and chemical metering systems. All tires need to be inflated to the recommended ratings to ensure proper metering. Low tire pressure may lead to a higher metering rates due to the tire making more rotations on each pass. Likewise, high tire pressure may lead to lower metering.

Equipment: Closing wheels

Seed to soil contact is important for germination and getting plants off to a strong start. Closing wheels and press wheels on your planter can be adjusted to provide varying amounts of firmness and seed-to-soil contact.

When planting in wet soil, furrow openers can cause sidewall compaction (sidewall smear) that restricts root growth and often leaves the seed furrow open, exposing the seed. If the soil is too dry at planting, the seed will not germinate properly.

Alternatively, if the soil is too loose, air can dry out the soil and make it difficult for roots to grow properly. If your seed to soil contact is too firm, it can cause seedlings to have difficulty in emergence and growth.


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LeRoy Toohey

Mar 22, 2019