Published 12 May 2009
Einstein's Theory of Relativity as it Applies to Soil Moisture
R.L. (Bob) Nielsen
Agronomy Dept., Purdue Univ.
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2054
Email address: rnielsen
he good news is that Monday's USDA-NASS report showed that Indiana's corn planting progress had caught up to that of the same time period in 2002. The bad news is that the 2002 planting season was one of the slowest in recent history. With a forecast of more rain throughout the state the middle of this week, let me offer a contrarian view about soil moisture and planting.
Indiana corn planting progress through 10 May 2009.
The superintendent of our Purdue Agronomy Farm and I share a laugh every planting season when it comes to deciding when the soil is "fit" to work or plant. We scuff around the fields in mid-April, dig a few spadefuls of soil, squeeze the soil into a ball like the soil scientists tell us to do, and then agree that the soil is too wet to work or plant. Around the first of May, we scuff around the fields, dig a few spadefuls of soil, squeeze the soil into a ball like the soil scientists tell us to do, and then agree that the soil is too wet to work or plant. Again in mid-May, we scuff around the fields, dig a few spadefuls of soil, squeeze the soil into a ball like the soil scientists tell us to do, and then agree that the soil is maybe just about right to work or plant, but we'll give it a few more days. By late May, we scuff around the fields, dig a few spadefuls of soil, squeeze the soil into a ball like the soil scientists tell us to do, and then agree that the soil is just as wet as it was back in mid-April, but maybe we ought to be working ground and planting anyway. Einstein was right............it's all about relativity.
Image source: http://www.strangecosmos.com
The point of my sharing this annual ritual with you is that we are rapidly approaching the point in the planting season where we need to "fish or cut bait". Yes, there are risks of working ground too wet or planting "on the wet side" (see articles below), but there are also risks of waiting so long for the soil to become "fit" to begin planting that the majority of your corn ground gets planted way too late.
Heaven forbid that I should recommend anyone to work ground or plant corn in soils that are wet enough to cause severe compaction that will haunt you later this summer. But, you know, when you decide back in mid-April to wait, you've got quite a bit of good planting season left to go. When you decide in mid-May to wait AND you have a lot of acres to cover, what you save by avoiding some soil compaction now may be less than what you risk by planting the bulk of your corn acres very, very late.
If you concur with these thoughts, "mud in" your corn, and suffer serious yield losses; you did not hear it from me. If you "pull the trigger" now and successfully avoid planting the bulk of your corn in mid-June and win the yield jackpot; then I'll accept all the credit.
There are no black & white answers to this situation, there are no silver bullets, and there are no certainties in farming. Use your best judgement in deciding when to head back to the fields over the coming days and/or weeks. You know your fields and soils better than anyone else.
Duiker, Sjoerd. 2009. Planting into wet soil? Field Crop News, Pennsylvania State Univ. [online] Available at http://fcn.agronomy.psu.edu/2009/fcn0907.cfm#h. [URL accessed 5/11/09]
Graybill, Jeff. 2009. Should I Be “Mudding in” My Corn?. Field Crop News, Pennsylvania State Univ. [online] Available at http://fcn.agronomy.psu.edu/2009/fcn0909.cfm#g. [URL accessed 5/11/09]
Murdock, Lloyd. 2009. Avoiding Sidewall Compacting During Late Corn Planting. Corn and Soybean Newsletter. Univ of Kentucky. [online] Available at http://www.uky.edu/Ag/CornSoy/cornsoy9_4.htm#2 [URL accessed 5/11/09]
Thelen, Kurt. 2009. Exercise patience in deciding when to commence field operations. Field Crop Advisory Team Alert. Michigan State Univ. [online] Available at http://www.ipmnews.msu.edu/fieldcrop/fieldcrop/tabid/56/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/176/Exercise-patience-in-deciding-when-to-commence-field-operations.aspx. [URL accessed 5/11/09]