Planting ideally starts here in Northern Indiana about the third week of April. I’m typing this up on March 30 after spending some time this afternoon preparing for seeds to hit the soil in the weeks to come.
Mechanically speaking we are ready for planting season. We generally put all our equipment away at the end of a season so it’s ready to roll the next time it is needed. Our planter has been sitting in the shed since July of last year just waiting. All it needs is the right seed plates slapped in for whatever seed we dump in it first. Tillage tools have been greased and had their wear parts replaced months ago. But there are other tasks at hand we need to contemplate while we wait for this rainy and not so sunny beginning of spring to come around to planting weather.
What I was doing this afternoon was writing prescriptions for corn fields. The prescriptions I write aren’t for medicine — rather they are different seeding rates based on past performance history of a field. Because at harvest our equipment maps the yield across our farm, I can pull historical yields into a composite map of several years together and make informed decisions about how I want the seeding rate to change as the planter moves across a field. I might want 34,000 seeds per acre on some of our best soils, but in the sandy ridges of a few of our fields I may drop as low as 24,000 where water and nutrients are scarce. With prescriptions loaded into our precision farming equipment, these rates will change automatically on the fly without further input from me.
We also have to look at the current state of the weeds on our farm. The fields we sprayed after harvest last year are looking very clean as of yesterday. They probably won’t need additional weed control until our crops are growing. Other fields will need a preplant burndown for sure. And others may get sprayed ahead of planting or immediately after depending on weed pressure and what the tillage situation will be. We keep doing more no-till, but we also do conventional tillage, and we have one field that was vertical tilled in fall and we will probably leave it alone and plant it as a stale seedbed. And we also have cover crops in the mix on 470 acres. We have to keep an eye on their growth and look ahead at the weather to make decisions on when to terminate those covers.
Another thing I’d like to do is get some nitrogen down before planting. We put the bulk of our N on corn as sidedress after the crop has emerged. We have a couple of corn fields from last year going back to corn this year, and some testing I did in 2016 showed a yield bump in splitting N before planting and the remainder as sidedress versus putting it all on either pre or post-plant. I also like to hit the end rows and corners with a full rate just because it makes sidedress easier when I don’t have to cover those areas. The rain we got today and the forecast several days out doesn’t look super great for all this, but we aren’t saturated with rain yet. A few sunny days would do wonders for field conditions.
As the calendars flip over to April everyone will be getting the itch to do some fieldwork, but patience for the right conditions will win the day.
Brian Scott raises corn, soybeans, popcorn, wheat, and kids on an Indiana farm and blogs under the name The Farmer’s Life. His goal is to promote the virtues of modern agriculture and feature the operations of his farm.