The 2018 growing season is fast approaching and with it another year of challenges. Spring management and field work set the stage for the entire growing season, playing a big role in determining yield potential of crops. Although environmental factors are out of their control, there are several management practices growers can do to prepare for a successful and productive growing season.
One challenge farmers face every year is completing field work in a timely manner, especially when adverse weather conditions exist. Timeliness is key to several areas of crop management including effective pesticide application, fertilizer application, tillage, stand establishment, and ultimately yield potential. Timely control of weeds and pests eliminates harvest losses due to competition and crop damage. Identifying potential pest problems requires careful scouting of fields throughout the growing season and applying rescue treatments when pest reach threshold levels established by universities.
University research has proven that timely planting is a determining factor for yield, and delays will cause loss of yield potential. Although planting delays are usually the result of weather conditions, growers should make it a priority to get crops in the ground in a timely manner. For Ohio it is widely understood that the optimal planting period for corn is between April 20 and May 10 and soybean planting should begin the last week of April when soil conditions allow for field work and germination. Planting delays that that result in later-planted crops can cause significant loss of yield potential.
While it is critical to perform field operations in a timely fashion, it is equally important to know when to avoid field work. There are times of the year when performing field work does more harm that good. The end of April 2017 was a great example of a time when planters should have been kept in the barn. After about a week of favorable field and weather conditions, a pattern of cool, wet weather arrived. Many fields planted within 24 hours before the change in weather (which included a cold rain) had to be replanted due to stand loss. During the first 12 to 24 hours a seed is especially vulnerable to cold shock. Corn and soybeans should not be planted immediately before a cold rainy period of weather.
Another important management practice in the spring is weed control, which becomes more challenging every year. With several different trait choices in corn and soybeans, growers have a variety of options for weed control and can vary modes of action from year to year. Timing and attention to detail when making herbicide applications is critical to effective weed control. Use of an effective burndown with residual products will allow for a weed-free field and give crops time to canopy, shading out weeds. Weeds should be killed by the time they reach 4 to 6 inches tall, before they become difficult or nearly impossible to kill with herbicides. Walking fields prior to POST applications will allow growers to identify which weeds are present and make applications before weeds get too tall. For effective control of weeds growers need to keep several factors in mind, such as labeled rates, weather conditions, plant stress, and potential herbicide resistance in weed species. Effective weed control will eliminate competition with crops for nutrients, water, and sunlight, which can cause significant yield losses.
As is the case every year, taking field conditions into consideration when making management decisions will allow for success in 2018. Before performing any field work, growers should take look at soil moisture. Although timing is critical, performing field work when soil is saturated or even “marginal” can cause compaction that will rob yield for years to come. When performing tillage, the goal should be to prepare an optimal seed bed. Tillage operations that create “cloddy” soil conditions will hinder seed-to-soil contact and impact germination and emergence. When planting, field conditions can change from field-to field. Changing soil conditions can impact depth of the seed furrow and seed placement. Growers should routinely monitor field conditions and seed placement, making planter adjustments when necessary.
While spring weather may be unpredictable, farmers can take action in the spring to ensure that crops get off to the best start possible. Careful planning, attention to detail, and timely planning in the spring of 2018 will allow Ohio’s growers to achieve high yields at harvest this fall.