Is late planting a bad thing?

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Column by Extension Agent Matt Adams

As we continue into spring, it’s obvious farm work and seasonal progression of most crops are well behind average. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, as of April 22, only 15 percent of the corn crop in Kentucky had been planted, compared to 73 percent the same time last year, and a five-year average of 32 percent. Winter wheat is progressing slowly, as only 3 percent of the crop statewide has headed out, compared to 77 percent last year, and a five-year average of 19 percent.

Here in Hardin County, most producers have planted less than 50 percent of their corn acres, with several who haven’t begun. The historical “optimum” planting dates have been April 1-May 1 for Western Kentucky and April 15-May 15 for central and Eastern Kentucky. As we move into May with a limited number of corn acres planted, the question must be asked, “How much will late planting hurt yield?”

First of all, let’s look at recent history. Corn planting was behind in both 2009 and 2011. The former provided excellent growing and pollination conditions throughout the summer, resulting in record yields in our part of the state. The latter did not fare quite as well, but when compared to 2012, when we had an extremely early planting season, it didn’t turn out too bad. Recent research and experience shows conditions through the summer have a much greater effect on yield than planting date does.

Bob Nielson, grain crops specialist at Purdue University, recently wrote an excellent article, “The Planting Date Conundrum for Corn.” In his article, he compares NASS data from the last 20 years to final yield, and shows there is no relationship between planting date and final yield. He states it is true yield “potential” declines after a certain date, however other yield-influencing factors have greater impact on final yield than actual planting date.

Dr. Chad Lee, Extension grain crops specialist at the University of Kentucky, also has looked at this conundrum in Kentucky. He looked at farmer data from 2003 to 2011 and found there is little to no correlation linking planting date to final yield. His data suggest highest yields occurred in corn planted from the last week of April to the third week of May — yet many of us still believe that if the corn isn’t in the ground before the end of April, it doesn’t have the potential to yield well.

It is not too late to plant corn in our area. At this point, getting in a hurry and “mudding” the crop into wet soils, or running the corn planter too fast, have much more potential to hurt yield than waiting for optimum planting conditions. Let’s plant it right the first time and hope and pray for good conditions during pollination this summer.

C.A.I.P GRANT PROGRAM OFFERED SOON. The County Agriculture Investment Program soon will be offered in Hardin County. Applications for this 50/50 cost share program can be picked up at the Hardin County Extension Service between Wednesday and May 15. All applications must be submitted to the office no later than close of business May 15. Cost share programs available include agriculture diversification, large animal (beef, dairy, equine), small animal (goat, sheep, bee, rabbit), farm infrastructure, fencing, on-farm water, forage and grain improvement, on-farm energy, poultry and other fowl, technology and leadership development, value added and marketing. For more information, contact the Hardin County Extension Service at (270) 765-4121.

Matt Adams is a Hardin County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.