Guest Post: Organic Farmers Should Ignore the Age-Old Advice to Plant Early

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It’s been ingrained in you your entire farming life: plant early. 

But if you’re an organic farmer, or in the process of becoming one, your new mantra should be the complete opposite. Ignore your neighbors rolling through their fields in early April — your time will come at the end of May.

Why should organic farmers plant later? Let’s discuss.

Fast emergence fights weeds

Your goal as an organic farmer is to get your crop out of the ground as fast as possible. You want to see it emerge within 72 hours of planting and canopied within 2-3 weeks.

The faster your crop emerges, the more it can get in front of the weeds. And the only way your crop will emerge that quickly is if the soil temperature is warm and stays warm. We prefer to plant when the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees. 

Conditions are also usually a little drier if you wait later to plant. Higher moisture means more weed growth.

And if you plant later than your neighbors, it reduces the odds of cross pollination tainting your organic crop.

Data from AgriSecure’s MyFarm platform show that planting later is also advantageous for yield. There’s a strong correlation between planting around May 20-25 and above average organic yields.

What if conditions are dry?

Like many areas of the country, our organic farm in Iowa experienced less-than-ideal moisture this year. 

When these conditions pop up, it’s important to think about tillage timing and cover crop use.

Think about how you need to adjust those two practices to ensure you have enough soil moisture for germination.

You don’t want to till 2 inches deep and dry out the soil where the seed will be planted. Instead, you may opt for tilling a half-inch deep to control weeds while preserving some moisture.

Push plant populations

In addition to pushing back the planting date, organic farmers should consider bumping up their seeding population.

This helps offset the risk of low germination, though it’s worth noting that with the quality of organic seed today, that’s not a huge concern.

It also helps protect plant losses that occur during weed control. On our farm, we up the population about 5%, but you could go up to 10%.

When it’s time to consider replanting

Despite best intentions and execution, you may have a field that’s looking like it won’t fulfill its yield potential. Should you replant?

First consider stand count. If your stand is too low, crop insurance will cover it. The payout is based on an estimated yield loss times the spring grain price.

Even if stand count is good, you may decide it’s worth replanting based on weed pressure.

Please note: crop insurance will not cover this. But weeds can be so detrimental we’ve found it’s worth it to pay out-of-pocket for a replant to get the weeds under control.

Even this year we made the mistake of planting too early, and decided to replant because of the amount of weeds.

Want expert guidance on organic production?

Planting timing is just one of the changes in thought processes you’ll make in your transition to organic.

Why go it alone when you can be guided by those who have been there, done that?

Schedule a free consultation with AgriSecure to learn how we can help make your organic farm as successful and profitable as possible.

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