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May 9, 2003

Storms shouldn't rain on farmers' planting parade, specialist says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - After standing on the accelerator the first month of planting, farmers now are pressing hard on the tractor's brake pedal.

Recent rainfall in Indiana and other Midwest states has stalled fieldwork. The wet conditions should not worry corn and soybean growers who battled the elements all spring one year ago, said Tony Vyn, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service cropping systems specialist.

"There is some concern about planting delays, but it is not something where we're yet in a panic mode," Vyn said. "Because of good frost activity and low rainfall over the winter, and the fact that until now we have not had very intensive rains, we've preserved a good soil structure. In most parts of the state, that means that soils will dry faster with the same amount of rain than they would have a year ago when the soil structure wasn't nearly as loose as it is this year."

Drier-than-normal subsoil conditions through late April in northern Indiana contributed to an increased water absorption capacity in soils, he said. Planting is proceeding at a faster clip this spring in northern Indiana than in the state's southern counties.

Vyn urged farmers to stay off their fields when soils are too wet for tilling and planting. Planting in wet conditions often results in soil compaction, which can restrict a plant's root system and reduce crop yield potential. Soil is at a greater risk of compaction if dry weather persists later in the crop season.

On level fields, producers might consider skipping additional secondary tillage and planting immediately after soils dry, Vyn said.

"If the field received secondary tillage before this last bout of rain, then stale seedbed planting into that already leveled seedbed would be a good option," he said. "It would save some time when soil conditions are dry, would probably enable and enhance seed placement, and probably get the crop off to a faster start."

Hoosier farmers planted at breakneck speed in April and early May. Fifty percent of the intended corn crop and 17 percent of the intended soybean crop was in the ground as of Sunday (5/4), according to the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service. At the same period a year ago, only 26 percent of corn and 4 percent of soybeans were planted. The five-year planting average at May 4 is 34 percent for corn and 15 percent for soybeans.

Although storms halted planting progress across the state this week, soils are absorbing the moisture quickly, Vyn said. Warm temperatures have helped evaporate surface water, he said.

This spring's generally superior soil profile provides farmers an excellent opportunity to plant without first turning over the soil.

"The conditions we have now are another reason to consider no-till planting," Vyn said. "That's already widely adopted for soybeans, but I certainly would encourage it for the remaining corn acreage where possible because it gives optimum conditions for early seedling development when soil temperatures are as warm as they are now."

Once the skies clear, farmers should inspect their fields carefully before resuming planting operations. Some fields dry more quickly than others, Vyn said.

"There's no magical number of days following the last rain event where one could say that this is the time that's required," he said. "It varies by soil texture, field drainage and the extent of residue cover. But, on average, for the same amount of rainfall we will be able to get into our fields sooner this spring than we would have been able to last spring."

The ideal planting period for corn in central Indiana is April 20 to May 10. For soybeans the optimal planting period runs from May 10-30. However, farmers are better off waiting until soils dry to plant than pushing ahead with fieldwork to finish within the ideal planting window, Vyn said.

"The yield loss associated with planting on soils which are too wet far exceeds the potential yield loss associated with another day or two of planting delay," he said.

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415, sleer@purdue.edu

Source: Tony Vyn, (765) 496-3757, tvyn@purdue.edu

Related Web site:

Purdue University Department of Agronomy Extension page: http://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/index.html

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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