There’s something I love about spring. Maybe it’s because people stop asking me, “Where’s your coat?” or because is it the dawning of a new season of baseball or because we get to go out and plant. I tell you this: as much as I love the crack of the bat and the smell of hotdogs and popcorn, they pale in comparison to my love for the smell of the soil in spring and the sounds of planters in the field. Most years, it’s April when I get to these topics and you are already in task mode. But this year I wanted to be able to get ahead of you and hope to get you to focus on process first. Because I know one thing: if the day you start planting is your favorite day of the year, the second is the day you are done.
To continue our theme for the year of #everyplantmatters I want all of us to become process-oriented once planting instead of task-oriented. On the surface you could say these things are the same, but in all reality they are connected but not the same thing. Focusing on every step and detail of the process will not only allow us to complete the task but to optimize its performance. This is really about engagement while planting more than anything.
For my team planting some of the development trials for RD and some of the demos for the Summer Series events, these simple notes will be posted in the cab of the tractor as a gentle reminder about what’s important. I’m not implying that you all should do the same, but I wouldn’t stop you from doing it either.
Conditions Trump Date: I told you I would come back to this. So yes, advancement in genetics have allowed us to plant earlier than we once did and that allows us to plant longer maturity hybrids that collect a greater amount of sunlight and energy. The problem comes in when the calendar causes us to make bad planting decisions. Too wet, too cold, just before a snow—and the list could go on. So here is my simple rule: You always want to be planting in a soil that is of adequate moisture and warming over one that is wet and cooling. So that being said, the most important days to your crop year are the 3-5 days after planting. If the soil is warm but the next 3 to 5 days the weather trend is significantly cooler, it is best to just take your time and wait it out.
Depth Matters: Every year we end up talking about the perils of shallow planted corn—how it will lead to poor root development, rootless corn syndrome and lodging. I have a simple guideline to follow: regardless of soil moisture and planting date just set your planter at 2” and let it roll. The problem with setting your planter any shallower than 1.5” is that you run the risk of the nodal roots not developing correctly and having troubles down the road. The other problem with shallow planted corn is that from an environmental standpoint any and all soil from 1.75” to the surface is really susceptible to hourly changes in temperature and moisture, which could lead to uneven stand uniformity and reduced yield. For every ½” deeper than the 1.75” depth, you just add an additional 25 GDUs for emergence. At the 2” depth it takes 100-125 GDU’s for emergence.
Speed Kills: Has technology given us the ability to plant corn at a higher rate of speed than we have had in the past? Yes. Does that mean we should? NO. All my talk of improving your ability to control or adjust down pressure for your plant DOES NOT give you the ability to plant as fast as you can stay in the seat. We made an investment in a planter and all its bells and whistles to maximize its ability to plant, so let it do its job by slowing down and making sure each seed gets nestled gently into its place in the seed bed.
Feed it Right: Every time I say that statement in my head, it comes out like the guy on those lawn fertilizer commercials, but I want to make one simple statement about this. Starter fertilizer serves a very particular purpose: to give the plant the nutrients it needs to get it through the first 21-28 days of its life, to get us through germination and to the place in time where the roots can start uptaking nutrients efficiently. Make sure you are using a starter that is balanced enough to provide for a plant’s needs yet safe enough to place close to the seed (hint: Central Valley Ag’s Begin product would be a good choice).
Optimize: I want you to think about the conditions into which you are planting and all the challenges that little seed will have to overcome to reach its destination as a fully mature corn plant. I want you to consider all that and decide what you are going to do to win the war of attrition. Ascend is a great example of one of the products we have been implementing to optimize your seed investment. For those of you who have used it, keep using it. The increase in consistency of emergence and seedling vigor during establishment will help us with the only yield component we control, which is ears per acre. If you have a rootworm problem, invest in the added insect protection with an insecticide. Whatever you have been doing or need to do to optimize those plants at harvest, do it.
Look at me go! I took the most complicated operation of your farming year and broke it down to five simple things. I know it’s not that simple, but these five things will help you keep your mind where your hands are, so to speak, while you are planting. If we planned and communicated well enough, the logistics of planting season will work themselves out. For now, I want you to have laser sharp focus on the now, and let us help you with the rest.