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Wet soil holding up corn planting
Dr. Victor Martin

As of April 13 the Drought Monitor is indicated no change. Abnormally dry conditions are still confined to the western third of the state, none of the state is in extreme drought, there is almost no severe drought left out west and moderate drought is confined to the extreme western counties. The six- to 10-day outlook (April 20 to 24) indicates continued temperatures well below normal and average to slightly above average precipitation. The eight to 14 day outlook (April 22 to 28) indicates below normal precipitation and slightly below normal temperatures. Today, is there any concern yet for the 2021 corn crop.

Today is April 18.  Soil temperatures aren’t great but aren’t terrible. There is adequate to more than adequate soil moisture. Producers, especially dryland producers would like to plant corn. Wet soil moisture conditions are holding things up. So where are they with their 2021 corn crop and should they be concerned?

• First, most, not all producers, would like corn planting wrapped up before the end of the first week of May. Typically dryland corn first followed by irrigated. This is to hopefully have corn tasseling and silking before the worst stress of summer heat and dry conditions hit. At least that’s the idea but you never know when those conditions will or won’t occur from year to year. You just look at the long-term average of the weather outlook for the summer and hope for the best.

• Another reason for planting as early as practical is a producer wanting to follow corn with wheat for grain and/or grazing or rye for pasture. The recommended planting date along with the proper maturity corn makes it much more feasible than trying to follow corn or soybeans.

• Much of the ground, especially north of the river, is too wet to plant and needs to dry out. Some ground still needs fertilizer and/or weed control chemically, through tillage or a combination of the two. No-tillage is an advantage here since if it’s dry enough for tillage, it should be dry enough to plant.  

• The final piece of the puzzle is hybrid maturity. A corn plant’s life cycle is dictated by heat accumulation, commonly figured as growing degree day heat accumulation. It takes so much heat accumulation for each stage of development from emergence to physiological maturity of the seed. It is commonly expressed as days for hybrids which is a bit misleading.  A “full season” hybrid in our area is usually considered 120 day corn. A producer normally selects as full a season as practical as the greater the number of days, the higher the yield potential. Dryland hybrids are typically a shorter maturity, especially on the sandy soils south of the river. This reduces risk with more variable and unpredictable precipitation. This way you decrease the risk of wasting water on vegetative growth and not having water for grain production.

• As of now, producers should be fine, especially if May warms up and we typical summer heat. There is adequate time with the hybrids selected. Harvest may be a bit later than desired but with a typical summer not drastically so.

• If we get to the second week of May and a producer has pretty full season hybrids and looks at further delays, things become a bit riskier. They may want to consider trying to trade in and obtain a shorter season hybrid. It depends on if they are going back to a winter cereal in the fall or if they are concerned about a colder than normal fall.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.