From FCC Express
By Owen Roberts
After a long, stubborn winter, Ontario farmers are anxiously planning to seed, and asking – do I plant corn and soybeans early and take advantage of potential yield gains, or do I wait for the ground to warm up to make sure my seed germinates?
Agronomist Dale Cowan has some advice: Do both.
“Wait for the soil to warm, then plant as soon as possible if the forecast is favourable,” says Cowan, senior agronomist at the AGRIS and Wanstead Coops. “A lot of people are worried that because of the cold weather, we’re now on schedule for late planting, but technically, we’re not late. We’ve had no usable heat, and the soil temperature is too low yet for planting, so although the weather has been cold, we’re not late.”
Warm seedbed is necessary
A warm seedbed is needed for corn and soybeans. They’re called base 10 crops, meaning they need soil temperatures of at least 10C and rising for best germination.
If soil cools off after seed is sown, germination slows and disease and insects can wreak havoc on development. So producers must keep an eye on forecasts, and manage accordingly.
“If the soil temperature gets to 10C but the forecast calls for a drop in the air temperature for several days, the soil will cool and germination may be a problem,” Cowan says.
“Producers may be ready to seed as soon as the soil temperature hits 10C, but they’ll need to change their plans if the seed bed is likely to cool down.”
That’s what happened last year. Many producers got off to a quick start thanks to a warm spell in early May. But then the weather cooled and turned nasty for weeks, meaning corn didn’t germinate properly. Some had to be replanted in late May, and gains that could have been realized from early seeding were lost.
Forecast is improving
The immediate forecast for Ontario is improving. But as of late last week the soil temperature was only 6C. Longer term was still a toss-up.
Should planting be delayed because of inclement weather, rather than cool soil temperatures? Cowan advises producers to prioritize seeding above all else.
“Once the soil is warm enough and the forecast is favourable, the main thing is to get seed into the ground,” he says. “Put nitrogen on later if necessary. Manage around conditions.”
Hard to sit on your hands
Overall, though, Cowan is optimistic about seeding, and urges producers to take a long view – which likely won’t be long at all.
“It just takes some wind and three days of warm weather for things to change,” he says. “We have the capacity to plant the entire Ontario corn and soybean crop in 15 days… we just need consecutive warm days to get going. It’s hard to sit on your hands, but if you wait a bit for the soil to warm up, you can get the yield advantages from early planting and be less exposed to the risk of having to reseed.”