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Will Mother Nature allow for timely corn planting?

The weather outside is still frightful, but the the optimal corn planting time is just around the corner. In some parts of Ohio, corn planting typically starts as early as the first week of April, an Ohio State University Extension expert said.

Getting corn planted in southern Ohio between April 10 and May 10 and in northern Ohio between April 15 and May 10 — the historically optimal planting times for corn in Ohio — is just one of several key measures growers can take to better ensure they avoid irreversible mistakes that could result in lower yield potential, said Peter Thomison, an OSU Extension agronomist.

But while growers historically have seen optimal yields when following these planting dates, those growers who aren’t finding optimal planting conditions may want to hold off, particularly if the forecast calls for cold, wet weather conditions, he said.

“We encourage planting at the recommended times because this is historically when you get the best yields,” Thomison said. “Planting later than these times historically has resulted in yield loss, in some cases a 30-bushel-per-acre reduction in yield.

“Growers historically could see a yield loss of a bushel to a bushel and a half for each late planted day. But if the conditions aren’t right, growers don’t need to rush in and mud their corn just for the sake of planting early.”

In fact, wet weather conditions caused planting delays for many growers in 2011. However, many growers were still able to produce crops with good yields and, in some cases, better yields, he said.

But the generic recommendations are that if growers have fields that have good soil conditions, are dry, well drained and suitable for planting, with warming temperatures over the first couple of weeks of April, growers can start planting, Thomison said.

Input costs are also a concern for many growers this year, he said, thanks in part to the lower price corn is experiencing this year.

“One proven practice that offers a good return on investment is a planter tune-up,” Thomison said. “Planter adjustments will help promote uniform spacing and uniform emergence which translate into higher yields.”

In addition, Thomison said growers can minimize risk by:

* Performing tillage operations only when necessary and under the right soil conditions. It is important to avoid working with wet soil and to reduce secondary tillage passes that could cause shallow compaction and reduce crop yields. The best time of year for a deeper tillage is during the late summer and into fall on dry soil, and only when a compacted zone has been identified.

* Adjusting seeding depth according to soil conditions. Corn should be planted between 1.5 to 2 inches deep, which provides protection against frost and allows for adequate root development. Seed depth should be adjusted for weather and soil conditions.

* Adjusting seeding rates by field. For example, high-yield potential sites with high soil-fertility levels and water-holding capacity can benefit from higher seeding rates, while lower seeding rates work better with droughty soils or in late-planted crops. Given this may be a year where people are looking at their input costs more closely, only push seeding rates where appropriate.

* Planting a mix of early-, mid- and full-season hybrids between fields, which reduce damage from diseases and environmental stress at different growths stages. Using this method also spreads out harvest time and workload.

* Planting full-season hybrids first, followed alternately with early-season and mid-season hybrids, which allows the late-season hybrids to get the most benefit from maximum heat unit accumulation, Thomison said.

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