Foolish or brilliant? Planting early in 2016

Foolish or brilliant? Planting early in 2016

We already have 40% of our corn in the ground.

The earliest corn has done the best in 46 of the 48 years my dad has farmed. That is a 96% success rate. The earliest corn was bad in two of those 48 years.

In 1968, the first year Dad farmed full time, he planted corn early in freshly worked wet ground. It rained, the ground crusted over, and he had to replant. The other bad year was 2013, and that is a year I would call an anomaly. In 2013, we had six days fit for planting before June 6. We had corn that was planted after that date that yielded over 200 bushels. Replanted corn yielded higher than first planted corn that year.

We have had good luck in the past with early planting. We are nearly halfway finished with corn already.

The earliest planted has been the best in the other 46 years of Dad’s farming career. We planted corn on March 13 during the drought of 2012. Grandpa had told my dad of droughts in the 1930’s. He said that the winters before those droughts were mild, and they could work ground all winter. The winter going into 2012 looked similar. The March 13-planted corn in 2012 yielded almost 200 bushels while the rest yielded just half as much.

Dry year ahead?

We are speculating that 2016 will be dry. The ground was still under 50 degrees in mid-March, but the forecast looked generally dry. I started planting this year on March 18th. I am glad I have a guidance system because one day I wouldn’t have been able to see the markers due to the dust. I had five good planting days before rain. As I write, 40% of our corn is in the ground.

Why can we plant so early? Regardless of which side of the debate you take, global warming may be a factor in earlier planting. The migration of planting corn in the upper Midwest may support the global warming debate. My grandpa used to say he liked to plant corn on his birthday, May 23. We now plant two months earlier! Winters also lasted longer in past generations.

Better corn genetics could also be a factor. We have seed germinating in sub-50 degree soil temperatures as I write.

Dad asked me earlier this week, “How many times in your farming career will you have almost half the corn planted on March 23?” It could become common every year.

In reality, we take a risk each time we drop a seed into the ground. Some people think we are nuts for planting early. One guy told me I was foolish. I would argue a foolish notion is to pay attention to crop insurance planting dates and only start when the neighbors plant, while simultaneously disregarding weather pattern changes and advice from Grandpa.

We don’t have to be first to plant in the area, but we feel that planting early is best for our bottom line.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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