Tim Bishop of Queenstown, Md., expects to start planting corn by this weekend. But he's in no rush to sock corn in. In fact, he'd welcome a good rain delay if one were in the forecast. (It isn't.) "We only had a half-inch of rain in March. Our ground has been hard and dry."
With near-record corn prices, dwindling silage supplies and high input costs, little mistakes of the past may be horrendously costly today. So if you're already planting, pull over and ponder what Bishop and other experts warn of. Do it right so you won't have any do-overs.
Beware of spring fever: "You smell the tree blossoms, feel the warm sun, then see your neighbors pulling their planters out. Don't panic," counsels Taylor Doebler, president of T.A. Seeds at Jersey Shore, Pa. "Take a deep breath, and remember your experience the last time you planted corn too early."
Failure to calibrate: "One of the biggest mistakes I see," says Bishop, "is incorrect contact mating of (worn) double-disc openers. Non-calibrated seed meters with worn brushes and warped discs on vacuum planters is asking for trouble."
Closing wheels, too, should be within recommended tolerances. And he adds, "If using liquid fertilizer, make sure none of the row delivery tubes are plugged."
Level that toolbar! Toolbars need to be level if you're going to plant at a consistent depth across the machine, adds Dan Mongeau, Pioneer Hi-bred agronomy trials manager at Cazenovia, N.Y. Too often, they need to be adjusted, especially to keep press wheels firming up soil properly around the seeds.
Don't plant too shallow! That's a real concern this spring with already limited soil moisture, warns Mongeau. "Planting 2½ inches deep in well-drained soils would be acceptable. Rarely do we see corn planted too deep.
"Corn planted too shallow can cause the nodal root system to begin development at or even above the soil line. That can lead to early-season root lodging, poor drought tolerance and inadequate nutrient uptake."
Plant only needed traits: "Don't have a corn borer or rootworm problem or don't plan to apply a glyphosate herbicide?" asks Bill Camerer, consultant for Doebler's PA Hybrids at Jersey Shore, Pa. There's no value in using traits you don't need. Just the opposite is true if you do need them.
Over-populating ups risk: It adds significant risk to crop yield potential, explains Camerer, "when stress factors such as drought or damaging wind or other events enter the picture. In general, a resulting population stand of around 30,000 plants per acre seems to work well for most Eastern farmers."
Speed kills spacing: "Don't stumble out of the blocks," urges Mongeau. "Consistent seed spacing is key to your highest yield potential. For every inch of variation from targeted spacing, yields can be reduced 2.5 bushels per acre."
Planter monitors that track singulation (seed spacing) and down force can dramatically improve plant stands, compared to just ground speed monitors. On most planters, seed spacing and depth accuracy begins tapering off at 6 mph. Bishop plants at 5 mph.
Stop and recheck: Double-check planter seed placement and depth mechanisms for wear. It's extra critical on sandy and shale soils. "Planting is an exercise of machine operation, not a driving event," emphasizes Doebler.
Don't count on replanting: Nobody does that intentionally. But, as Doebler stresses, "This year more than any other, don't plant in less than ideal conditions. Elite seed is in short supply, so it's highly unlikely that you'll get the seed you want.
"Replant yields are lower, costs are higher and harvests are delayed. So do your best the first time out."