May 8, 2013

U.S. Farmers are Cautions about Planting in Cold and Wet Soil

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Even though corn planting is starting later than normal, many farmers do not want to rush into planting because the cold and wet conditions could result in reduced germination and lower plant populations. If corn seed is exposed to cold and wet soil conditions for an extended period of time, a lot of bad things can happen. The longer it takes for emergence to occur after the seed has started to imbibe water, the greater the risk that it will be attacked by fungus and/or insects resulting in reduced germination or no germination at all. Corn seed can also experience chilling damage if it is exposed to cold temperatures for too long of a period.

Ideally, you want the seed to germinate and emerge within 5-7 days after planting. Even after emergence, the small seedling runs the risk of additional fungal attacks the longer it sets in cold and wet soil. Agronomists are advising farmers that they should wait a few days for improved soil conditions instead of rushing out and planting in less than optimum conditions.

Seed corn has become very expensive in recent years with some of the top notch hybrids selling for more than $400 for a bag of 90,000 seeds. If the seed is planted under poor conditions, the biggest concern is that the plant population will end up being less than desired. If the cold and wet conditions result in a 10% drop in germination, then instead of the desired 35,000 plants per acre for example, the farmer may end up with 3,500 less plants per acre and in the end, fewer ears per acre as well.

Generally, if there are fewer ears per acre, the yield will be lower as well although it isn't a straight line relationship between the number of ears per acre and yield. If the weather during the growing season is ideal, then the eventual yield may not be impacted at all by fewer ears because all the remaining ears could end up being larger than average. Additionally, if there is a plant missing in a row, the corn plants on either side of the gap can produce a little larger ear (its call ear flex), but it will only partially compensate for the missing ear. In the end, the most likely result of reduced plant populations is reduced production.