For many farmers in southern and central Minnesota, the pace of planting was going fast. As of May 4, farmers across the state already had planted 62 percent of the oat crop, 44 percent of potatoes, 38 percent of sugarbeets, 21 percent of spring wheat, a whopping 76 percent of the corn crop, and 35 percent of the soybeans.
Corn planting in 2020 was one month of 2019, and two weeks ahead of the five-year average, according to Minnesota Ag Stats.
It’s hard to tell if this is going to be a dry year, or if soil conditions are just superb and frequent rains will make this a bumper crop year. Farmers reported the soil was working up nicely during planting with little to no sidewall compaction or smearing. Seed-to-soil contact was good and suggested good soil conditions.
At the Southwest Research and Outreach Center near Lamberton, Minn., the air temperature reached a high of 75 degrees on April 28. The soil temperature at 2 inches varied from 52-71 degrees. At the 4-inch depth, the soil temp varied from 53-65 degrees – warm enough for corn germination.
Soil temperatures were a little colder when some of the corn seed was planted, but the general trend was for warming temperatures.
Getting corn and soybeans planted in a timely fashion allows for a longer growing season and generally equates to more yield, said Dan Koehler, technical agronomist supporting DEKALB/Asgrow in south central Minnesota. Koehler lives between Blue Earth and Albert Lea.
He encourages growers to put on their boots, jump on an ATV or send up a drone to check on what is happening across the fields.
“Scouting, evaluating their plant stands – taking stand counts – making sure they have an adequate stand and nothing needs to be replanted,” Koehler said. “It’s also important to evaluate planter performance – did the planter work as you had planned? Do you have a nice uniform stand with uniform spacing, uniform emergence?”
He wants farmers to take notes and determine if improvements need to be made for 2021.
Koehler encourages farmers to assess plant health as soon as possible. He expected the early-planted corn would reach V2-V3 during the first week of May.
“The corn is probably going to be going through that ‘handoff’ where all the energy has been delivered in the seed and transferred into the roots,” he said. “We call that the ugly corn stage.”
Typically, once the roots develop, the corn will green right up, stand tall and start growing. Farmers may want to talk with consultants if the corn seems unusually yellow. In most cases, the corn should grow through this stage quickly.
He also reminds growers to evaluate the effectiveness of pre-emergent herbicides. Look carefully to see if any weeds are emerging. What types of weeds are out there and what are the sizes of any weeds? There are weed identification apps that may help farmers ID weed seedlings with which they are not familiar. It’s also possible to take good closeup photos and send those photos to a crop consultant or Extension agent for identification. Another possibility is moving photos into Google images and seeing if the browser can identify the weed seedling.
Once planting is done, the next major task is spraying post-emergence herbicides.
Using various modes of action for both the pre- and post-emergent herbicides with residual control and applying the chemical before the weeds reach 4 inches can have a significant impact in producing a clean field for the entire growing season.
“You’re going to prevent competition from those weeds hurting your crop and robbing yield,” he said.
He pointed to the Roundup Ready Xtend system in soybeans, and recommended starting with weed-free field conditions, using a good pre-emergent herbicide, and following up three weeks after planting with a tank mix of XtendiMax, Warrant herbicide and Roundup PowerMax. Two of the products have residual to keep the fields weed free to canopy. Koehler reminds growers to follow all of the label instructions. Soybean growers may be applying that tank mix during the first to second week of May on early-planted fields.
“You’re using multiple modes of action, multiple residual products out there controlling the weeds, and it’s also a very good program for weed resistant management,” he said.
In early-May, phosphate and potash are generally taken care of, but farmers may be considering nitrogen side-dress applications.
There’s a saying, “You never want corn to have a bad day,” so if applying 28 percent as a side-dress is part of the plan – err on the early side, he added – definitely before V5 or 12-inch corn.
Evaluating the stands and what’s going out in the fields could make a big difference to final yield, moisture and quality of the crop. If farmers can’t get out there themselves, crop consultants/managers/scouts can give reports of what they see and make recommendations for herbicides and fertility.
Farmers may need to watch for various types of insects and larvae – based on the number of growing degree days accumulated by early-May.
This is also a good time to check the tile lines, the inlets and the outlets to see if there are any problems. Sometimes raccoons or other wildlife will climb into a pipe and get stuck or sometimes this important infrastructure is hit by equipment or may face other accidents or plugging. Controlled drainage or irrigation management begins in May, as well.
“We can’t fix the grain price, but the one thing we can do is just try to do as good of a job as possible to put this crop in and raise as many bushels as you can,” Koehler said. “That’s what you have control of.”