ReachOut: It’s Too Late To Be Early, But It’s Too Early To Be Late

ReachOut: It’s Too Late To Be Early, But It’s Too Early To Be Late from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

I’d like to start this week by thanking all of you for your attention to this series over the past year.  This is article #52 of the ReachOut Series, and I hope that you’ve gotten much more than a few good laughs from it.  I very much look forward to continuing to share ideas with you in the years to come.

And now with the warm fuzzies out of the way, let’s talk about how dang cold it is outside.

Or really, let’s talk about planting dates (yes, once again) because as I sit here looking at the chilly and wet long range forecast, my own thoughts about planting dates start to take a few steps back.

As you probably know, I am not a proponent of a calendar-driven planting date.  The best planting date for your corn changes with conditions and is the result of a careful thought process that evolves as conditions do.

Conventional wisdom indicates that the prime window for planting corn here in the land of the flat water is between April 18th and May 15th.  As we approach the beginning of this date range however, I ask you to make a few important considerations and wait for conditions to improve across UFC territory: 1) Early planting favors high yields but does not guarantee them.  2)  There is not a strong correlation between planting date and final yield.  3) Planting date is only one of many Yield Influencing Factors (YIFs).

If you reviewed the USDA-NASS crop progress report for the past decade or so, you would see that there is really no direct correlation between planting date and absolute yield.  Theoretically, the idea is that if you plant your corn early, it can harvest the greatest amount of sunlight and energy to drive yields as high as possible.  Your corn’s ability to harvest sunlight and energy though depends on when it emerges from the ground, so cold soil rather throws this nice theory a total curveball in practice.

Now, there is truth in the fact that potential yield declines when we start to delay planting into the second half of May.  Most of this decline in yield can be attributed to a shorter growing season, greater pest pressures, and a higher risk of hot, dry conditions during pollination.

Ultimately though, in any given year, corn planted early has near equal probability to yield more, to yield the same, or to yield less than corn planted later.  Planting date is simply not among the Great Deciders when it comes to yield.  (Last I checked, Fred Below doesn’t list planting date as one of his Seven Wonders of Corn Production.)  Other YIFs account for about 75% of trend departure from year to year and the total of the YIFs combined means much more to yield than the influence of any individual piece.

Header1Make this promise to yourself this spring: Let the market fear monger about a late planted crop and any implications it has on yield.  Let them make their noise while meanwhile you make sound decisions about planting and avoid taking actions you might later regret.  Almost always, muddling a corn crop in to stay ahead of “optimum” planting dates will lead to trouble.  With the scale of our equipment and awesomeness of technology at our fingertips, our ability to catch up is greater than ever.