Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Corn Planting this Spring

Chad Lee, Extension Agronomist, University of Kentucky

Young corn plant killed by freezing temperatures. 
The weather is warm, the soil is warm, the redbuds are blooming... it seems like we should be planting corn! Some producers have sprayed their burndown herbicides, which is a good thing this season considering how large weeds could get. Some have finished applying anhydrous ammonia, which is good because soil conditions are good. Now that these major tasks are done, all that is left is to plant corn. The fields are ready, but the calendar is not.

Last season, the rains came in early and stayed late. Every farmer was pushed to get corn planted at all, let alone in a timely fashion. Late plantings, especially on soybeans did better than "early"plantings last year. The calendar says late plantings hurt yields. This spring, something internally says that everything else is ready, let's plant some corn! The fresh memory of the previous planting season says let's plant some corn! But, the calendar says not to plant corn, yet.

So, which is right: the current field conditions or the calendar?

The calendar says that there is 50% chance that the final freeze occurs after April 13 for Mayfield, Princeton, and Russellville (Table 1). There is a 90% chance the the final freeze occurs after April 1 for Mayfield, March 31 for Princeton and March 30 for Russellville. The odds do not favor planting corn in March.

Recent history says we've seen something like this before. In 2007, daily maximum air temperatures in Mayfield, Kentucky were above 70 degrees (Fahrenheit) from March 22 to April 3. During that same period, the lows didn't go below 50 degrees. Then, the bottom fell out. From April 5 to April 10, the lows did not get above 20 degrees! Corn planted the last two weeks of March emerged in less than 7 days, grew rapidly and was no match for the cold weather. Farmers replanted 100,000 acres or more of corn that year.

There is no way to predict if 2012 will be a repeat of 2007. The calendars have been wrong before. But, the odds are in favor of another freeze event. Would it be a big enough freeze event to cause severe damage to young corn seedlings? That is the gamble.

I overheard a conversation where one farmer said he was going fishing until the first of April. That may be the best advice. Enjoy the nice weather, but respect the calendar. 

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