While visiting a farm supply business last week a farmer asked me the question that is on the minds of many farmers who will be planting corn this year. This may be especially true for those who have not planted corn in the past or have not planted it in several years. The question was “Is it too early to plant corn”?
Those who know me are aware that I like to kid around when I know the temperament and the situation of the person I am talking to. After considering these factors I commented to him “Well it’s only about 10:00, why don’t you wait until after lunch”. The truth is that it’s not a simple question, and it really should be considered thoroughly before going to the field to plant seed that cost over $200 per bag.
Our Extension recommended planting dates range from around the end of February until a little past the middle of March depending on latitude, but in most years the current weather dictates when we can plant. The reason we normally wait until the latter part of this period is that in most years fields are too wet to support the heavy equipment most people have.
In recent years we have seen many growers deviate from the recommendations and plant into soil with temperatures below 50F, and in many cases I would have stopped and waited for the soil to dry out a little more. But on fields that have good to surface drainage there is a very good chance that corn seed with excellent quality and a good seed treatment package will emerge and do well even when many of us would wait. Planting on a bed helps a lot as well.
For years I have told farmers that if I were to write an instruction book on how to manage corn it would be simple. I would divide it into sections labeled for the various topics like management of soil fertility, conservation of nutrients and water, insect management, disease management, earliness, management of multiple crops with corn, etc. there would be a single statement in the first sentence of the first paragraph of each section. That statement would be “Plant early.”
There are some common sense issues we must look at here. Average daily soil temperature should at least be above 50F so that plants can emerge uniformly in less than two weeks. You can find the current soil temps if you Google “Mississippi Farm Bureau Soil Temperatures”. It will be the first thing on the list that shows up. By the way, it’s 54F today in Central MS.
There should be a forecast of no heavy rain for at least 4 days to allow the seed to have plenty of oxygen to begin germination. The seed should be planted at good depth of around 2 to 2.5 inches even though this is a difficult thing to get a former cotton farmer to do that. Shallow planted seed come up faster, but you will pay in reduced survival and drought tolerance. Close the slit well to prevent rootless corn syndrome. Of course there will be farmers who just go plant and if the soil does not clog the press wheels they will roll. The Lord seems to take care of them most of the time.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac says our region of the country will have somewhat lower temperatures and more rain this summer so corn may be a good choice, and it may be good for most other crops as well. We could go into all the reasons for this with La Nina’ and El Nino shifts in the offing, but these things will happen regardless of our needs or wishes.
This shift in weather pattern is very typical, and I have seen it happen many times in the past. About the time everyone decides to spend money on irrigation the weather pattern shifts and they rarely need it. This may be one of those times, but then remember I don’t have a horse in the race.
Thanks for your time.