Early planting

Editor’s note: The following was written by Jenny Rees, Megan Taylor and Roger Elmore with University of Nebraska Extension and Jim Specht, a University of Nebraska emeritus professor of agronomy, for the university’s Crop Watch website.

Warmer temperatures and great soil conditions allowed the planting season to begin in many parts of the region this week.

Everything we do at planting sets the stage for the rest of the year. With tight economics, it’s important to make wise decisions with the factors we can control during planting season.

Proper soil conditions

Compaction can occur from driving on or tilling in wet soils, creating clods and hard pans. Sidewall compaction can occur when injecting fertilizer or planting seed into wet soils — being “mudded in.”

Plant into soil temps as close to 50 degrees as possible. Check weather conditions for the next 48 hours and avoid saturated soil conditions. If planting a few degrees less than 50, make sure to check with seed dealers on more cold-tolerant seed, and only plant if the forecast is calling for warm temperatures the next few days that would help increase the soil temperature.

Once planted, corn seeds need a 48-hour window and soybean seeds need at least a 24-hour window when the soil temperature at planting depth does not drop much below 50 and no cold rains are anticipated.

Proper planting window

Weather conditions vary from year to year, thus calendar dates aren’t as important as planting windows for optimum corn yield.

Not every year will the optimum planting date for corn be in April. In 2019, some growers commented that late May/early June planted corn was some of their best yielding due to the strange weather conditions.

Planting soybean early is critical to maximizing yield. This has been found through numerous university studies in addition to grower-reported data. Because of this, an increasing number of growers are planting soybean earlier than or at least at the same time as planting corn.

Use a fungicide and insecticide seed treatment when planting in late April/early May.

Proper planting depth

Aim to get corn and soybean in the ground 1.5-2 inches deep. This keeps corn and soybean seed in even soil temperature and moisture conditions. In spite of monitors showing down force and seeding depth, it’s still important to get out and check seeding depth across the planter in each field.

For corn, proper depth is critical for root establishment and avoiding rootless corn syndrome where the nodal (crown roots) don’t get well established. Thus, avoid planting shallow into wet soils.

While soybean is more forgiving on planting depth, research found lowest yields when soybean was planted 1.25 inches deep or less or 2.25 inches or greater with the highest yield at 1.75 inches deep.

Seeding rates

In general, our research has shown a trend of yield increases with increasing corn populations. However, it is very hybrid dependent. We’d recommend working with your seed dealer or testing different seeding rates via on-farm research.

In soybean, numerous studies have shown seeding rates can be reduced without significantly affecting yields. This has been found for both 15-inch and 30-inch planted rows in medium- to fine-textured soils in eastern and western Nebraska. The farmers in the Nebraska studies planted seed with at least 90% germination listed on the seed tag.

Our recommendation based on the research is to plant 120,000 seeds/acre and aim for a final plant stand of 100,000 plants/acre. Reducing rates from to 120,000 can save a grower $10/acre depending on seed costs.