You’ve been told a lie.
It’s a lie that didn’t start as a lie. It started as a pretty good idea actually, based upon the research and thinking of the time.
But the research has evolved and so has the thinking. Yet this idea still hangs around and, like a hunk of cheese, when an idea is still hanging out past the end of its shelf life, it starts to turn bad.
The lie: that planting date is so very important.
Let me be clear: planting date does matter. It matters a lot, in fact. But the idea that it is so important has caused more stress and consternation than it’s worth.
This emphasis on planting date came about as the industry looked to extend the growing season in pursuit of maximum yields. And an early planting date was key. Research showed that planting “late” could cost a grower 1.5% of their potential yield daily and to define “late” we looked to the calendar for a date.
None of this was wrong, per se. There’s truth to the research that determined the daily loss of 1.5%. The problem with it is that it’s based on potential yield, not actual. The other problem is that while any loss is not good, we made a big deal out of what is typically three bushels a day. It would take pretty much a week to really notice such loss.
It makes sense too that we looked to the calendar to help us define late. Think about it: calendars are everywhere. In your house, your garage, at the bank, on your phone. We are surrounded by calendars, so it was only natural to look to them.
But being beholden to date has caused us to make other decisions with penalties. When we use the calendar to help us define late, we can end up planting into unfit soil conditions which can cause losses in yield double the 1.5% boogeyman that scared us into taking such action.
Let the soil tell you when to plant. You’re planting into it after all, not into a calendar. And while picking a date on a calendar might be really easy, taking your cue from the soil isn’t all that much more difficult. The soil isn’t trying to hide anything from you. Plant into soil that isn’t too dry or too wet but just right and soil with a temperature trending upwards. While I don’t typically turn to corn grower contest winners for advice, one good thing we can learn from them is that the temperature trend to look for is soil that will reach 55 degrees within four days of planting.
One other lousy idea that I’d like to debunk while I’m here is the idea that planting must occur on consecutive days. It doesn’t. If one day is perfect, then go plant. If the next day isn’t, then stay out of your fields and check again the next. I know that you’ve been waiting all winter to just get something done, but don’t be lulled by your own progress (or your neighbor’s for that matter) into making a mistake. You only need about five days to plant and the window for good planting is actually quite wide.
I want the idea of some huge penalty for planting late to just go away. It’s wrong and it sometimes causes us to make decisions that actually do come with a huge penalty. As I’ve hammered at many times before, planting has huge significance to your season. Done well, you’re setting yourself and your crop up for maximum success. Done poorly, you create obstacles to maximum success that simply can’t be overcome or corrected. So do it right. And that starts by averting your eyes from that stupid calendar and looking downward, to the soil, instead.