Put your scouting hats on and grab some sunscreen. Today, I want you to get a little dirty.
It’s been an irritating season so far. Rain and snow and wind and a 100 degree day all in May. And the month isn’t even over yet. How have your fields fared? If you don’t know, you should, and today’s article will give you a systematic method for evaluating your situation. But I’m guessing that most of you do know how your fields are doing, and that many of you aren’t happy.
Perhaps you’re even thinking about replanting. Yes? Don’t agonize, friend. You played a good hand—this year though, Mother Nature had pocket Kings. Who knew? The important thing now is how you proceed. Do you ante up and aim to recover? Or do you walk away and adjust for the loss? It’s not an easy decision to make. Likely, you remember well the last time you were faced with the decision to replant, and likely, you remember spending the rest of the season beating yourself up for making the wrong decision. Those of you who replanted wished you hadn’t. Those of you who didn’t wished you did. Because it’s not a decision that you ever want to make, no decision will ever feel right.
But spending the season regretting your decision isn’t good for anyone. Not you, not your family, not your plants. Imagine a poker champion after a sizeable loss: Is he angry? Sure. Unhappy? Of course. He just got rocked. But does he beat himself up? No. He doesn’t have time for that. He has another hand to play, another pot to win. He moves on and leaves the past right where it belongs.
So when you make the decision to replant or not, make it once, make it right, and move along. Base your decision on numbers and not emotions, so that when that inevitable bit of doubt creeps up on you in July, you can return to the numbers that months later remain concrete and clear in their message, rather than the emotions that fade and change and months later leave us saying, “What the hell was I thinking?”
Replanting, like poker, is a game best played by the numbers. Read on for a step by step guide to evaluating your situation and making a numbers based decision that you won’t beat on yourself for in August…
Evaluating Your Plant Stand and Making the Decision to Replant
Evaluating your plant stand requires attention to four main qualities: Total Emergence, Stand Consistency, Stand Vigor, and Planting Depth. A thorough evaluation will also weigh each quality in light of the others, ie your Total Emergence might not make you dance a little jig in your field, but the plants that are there are consistent, vigorous, and deeply rooted. To help you consider your field holistically, this guide encourages you to assign points to each quality of your plant stand: the total score will give you insight into how your field is faring on the whole.
Ideal: 92-95% of the seeds you put into the ground have emerged. Nearly every healthy, normal seed you sank springs.
What Most Fields Are Like: 90-92% of the seeds emerged. Some have been lost due to planting errors and compaction issues.
Worst Case Scenario: 50-75% of seeds emerge. Unfortunately, many growers will fall into this category this year due to the difficult conditions we’ve experienced.
The How To:
The best method of estimating plant population utilizes a measuring wheel. Randomly select a location in your field. Walk with your measuring wheel down a row, counting plants until you reach 150. Read on your wheel the number of feet that you traveled in order to count 150 plants. Now do a little math. Locate on the chart below the conversion factor for your row width and divide it by the number of feet you traveled to get your plant population per acre. For example, you have 30 inch rows (conversion factor is 2,613,600) and walked 82 feet while counting 150 plants: 2,613,600/82=31,873 plants per acre. Repeat this process in a few different locations in your field to arrive at an average number of plants per acre.
Row Width (in inches)
To determine the percentage of total emergence, divide the average number of plants per acre obtained above and divide by your target number of plants per acre.
Assign yourself the number of points corresponding to your percent of target emergence:
5: 85% to 100% emergence of your target number of plants per acre.
4: 75%-85% emergence.
3: 65% to 75% emergence.
2: 50%-65% emergence.
1: Less than 50% emergence.
Ideal: Every single plant looks the same. Your fields are as rows and rows of picket fences.
What Most Fields Are Like: Trouble spots are visible where compaction, erosion, ponding, or poor soil quality cause plants to grow inconsistently.
Worst Case Scenario: Trouble spots affect 1/3 of your fields. 1/3 of your plant stand is missing or small.
The How To:
This one doesn’t involve math. Mosey on over to your fields and take a good, hard look. Be honest.
Assign yourself the number of points corresponding to the description that best fits your plant consistency.
5: Plants are evenly spaced and the same size.
4: Either spacing or size is uneven.
3: Either spacing or size is not just uneven, but erratic.
2: Both plant spacing and size are erratic.
1: There are huge gaps in plant spacing and plant size differs wildly.
Ideal: Plants are dark green and lush. If they had emotions, you would call them happy. Perfect Memorial Day corn that makes you puff out your chest and strut around like a big peacock.
What Most Fields Are Like: Cool temperatures lead to plants that are lighter green than ideal.
Worst Case Scenario: Plants are piqued, grayish, anemic, sickly, and purple-stemmed.
The How To:
Another easy one. While you’re looking at plant consistency, pay attention to plant vigor, too.
Assign yourself the number of points corresponding to the description that best fits your plant stand.
5: Plants are a deep, dark green. They are healthy looking with good roots.
4: Plants are a bit yellow, but their roots look good. They seem to need some heat.
3: Plants are piqued with underdeveloped roots.
2: Plants are whitish. Roots development is nearly non-existent.
1: Plants are dead.
Ideal: Each seed was planted 1 ¾ to 2 inches deep.
What Most Fields Are Like: Each seed was planted 1 ½ to 1 ¾ inches deep.
Worst Case Scenario: Seeds were planted less than 1 inch deep.
The How To:
Here’s where you’ll get some dirt on your hands and a little lesson in botany. Dig up a few plants around your field, taking care to dig up the whole thing. Note or mark the line of the soil surface on the plants and carefully knock loose the dirt clinging to the roots. Use a ruler or tape measure to measure the distance between the soil surface and the knot where roots begin to spread. This is the coleoptile and its length is exactly equal the depth at which the seed was planted. Digging up a few plants from different locations in your field will give you an idea of the consistency of your planting depth. If the depths are different, consider the average depth to be most representative of your field.
Assign yourself the number of points corresponding to your average planting depth.
5: 2 inches or deeper
4: 1 ¾ in. to 2 in.
3: 1 ½ in. to 1 ¾ in.
2: 1 in. to 1 ½ in.
1: under 1 in. deep
Bringing It All Together
Add your scores for each quality together for the total for your field. A score of 18 or better indicates that your fields are in very good shape right now. A score of 14 or lower indicates field conditions that warrant replanting.
Scouting your fields is always a useful expenditure of your time. It marks you as an engaged and informed grower. And I hope that future years bring better weather, so that you know the pleasure of scouting a deeply happy field. This year though, make your replanting decision according to the numbers. Own it. And move on, friend.
Next week, we’ll continue again with the virtues of evaluating your plant stand and what it all means.