Strategies for Managing Delayed Corn Planting

R.L. (Bob) Nielsen , Agronomy Department , Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1150

Originally published in Purdue Pest Management & Crop Production Newsletter (5/19/95)

Corn planting in Indiana continues at a slow pace, with only 42% of the state's crop acreage planted as of May 14th. Storm systems continue to track across portions of the state, causing further delays in planting for some Indiana corn growers. What strategies can growers develop to minimize the effects of such delayed planting?

Hybrid Maturity Selection. As I mentioned last week , growers in northern and eastcentral Indiana should consider switching to earlier maturity hybrids by the last week of May. Growers in central Indiana should begin switching to earlier hybrids by June 1. Growers in westcentral Indiana should begin switching to earlier hybrids by June 10, while growers in southern Indiana can wait until June 15 before switching to earlier hybrids.

Talk to your seed dealer now about availability of seed should the need arise to switch hybrids. While many growers still have several weeks before the decision to switch needs to be made, seed companies need to be aware of the potential demand as they develop strategies for moving seed supplies around the state or country. Keep in mind that much of the central Cornbelt is behind schedule in planting corn this year. If significant acreage remains unplanted in the next several weeks, the potential exists for a great demand for popular earlier maturity hybrids.

Nitrogen Fertilizer Application. Dave Mengel, Purdue Agronomy, suggests that if you have not already applied the bulk of this year's nitrogen needs to your corn fields, consider sidedress applications instead. As planting is delayed, it is relatively more important to be planting corn when the field window opens instead of applying fertilizer. Also, since grain yield potential tends to drop as planting is delayed (one to two bushels per day), consider applying fewer units of nitrogen if planting is delayed until the end of May or early June. For example, corn planted on May 30 may yield 20 to 40 bushels less than corn planted on May 10. Such a yield loss translates to about 20 to 40 fewer pounds of actual nitrogen required by the crop.

Tillage Operations. Consider eliminating one or more tillage operations as planting is further delayed. Most modern corn planters do not require a table-top smooth soil surface for adequate operation. If a field was already worked prior to some of the recent rains, consider planting into that 'stale' seedbed without re-working the ground ahead of the planter.

Seeding Rate and Seeding Depth. Don't make the mistake of reducing seeding rates just because planting is delayed and yield potential is lower. Your best yield potential will still result from seeding rates you would have normally used in late April and early May plantings. When the planting window opens, don't make the mistake of planting shallow in fear that the rains will return. There will be just as great a chance that the rains won't return and you cannot afford the risk of a fast-drying seedzone that results in delayed or uneven germination. A good, all-purpose seeding depth is 1.5 inches.

Pest Management. Remember the words of wisdom from our friendly neighborhood entomologists. Extremely early or extremely late-planted fields of corn can be quite attractive to a range of pests, including corn rootworm beetles at pollination time and European corn borer moths. Make a concerted effort this year to pay attention to the potential development of these and other insect pests, especially if your field(s) is among the earliest or latest in the neighborhood.