Tips for Surviving a Cold Spring

Spring is here! It may not look like it as out my window is a fresh 5 inches of snow on the ground on April 15th, but keep faith, planting season will arrive. With cold weather and the looks of the extended forecast, I thought I’d share some tips for surviving a long cold spring.

There is nothing you can do to change the weather, but there are ways you can manage differently so that you don’t end up losing to Mother Nature.

The first is soil temperature. Corn needs a soil temperature of 50F, and soybeans 54F to begin germinating. The first 24-48 hours after planting are particularly important. During these first days is when the seed starts to imbibe water. If the seed absorbs cold water, it chills the seed and slows root development. This leads to seeds rotting, laying around waiting for bugs to take a bite, and allowing diseases to get in. These seeds that are damaged cause poor and uneven emergence, and major loss of yield.

So how do we manage to reduce our risk? The obvious answer is wait until everything is absolutely perfect for crop growth. We know that perfect conditions rarely come along and we will be mudding it in, trying to get started early, or trying to beat the rain like we do every year. An easy way to manage temperature is an aerial vehicle with a thermal sensor. A UAV can fly your fields and make a temperature map of your field. This will tell you if your soil has warmed consistently and is ready to plant. Uniform emergence affects yield, so we want to be sure that the field is an even temperature. You can utilize a soil temperature probe while scouting fields. Testing by hand however, uses valuable time in a shortened growing window. You can’t just test one spot in the headlands to decide. Readings need to be taken from different spots to ensure the whole field is warm enough to plant.

Spring rains are often very cold. Even if the soil is above 50, a half inch of rain will cool it considerably. If you have seed that was just put in the ground, it will be absorbing this cold rainwater and could lead to imbibitional chilling. I recommend that if a big rain is forecasted we pull the planter home 24 hours early to reduce the risk of chilling.

Next, we want to think about the seed itself. Corn takes around 120 GDU’s to emerge, and soybeans take around 150. In good weather conditions we can have corn popping up 5-7 days after planting. During a cold spring however, those GDU’s don’t add up very fast. This leads to expensive seed sitting in the dirt with bugs and fungi for two, maybe even three weeks before emergence. Taking the above tips into account, there are ways to protect our seed. A quality seed treatment can be worth it’s weight in gold for a cold spring. There are many options for treatments including Poncho, Cruiser, Gaucho, Votivo…the list could go on for days. Most seed comes with a basic insecticide/fungicide on it. The basic package is usually the lowest rate possible so it doesn’t have much protection for a cold spring. Many seed dealers have the ability to add treatment to the basic package. If you ordered seed from Beck’s Hybrids, your seed will come treated with the Escalate Yield Enhancement system. This proprietary treatment includes 5 different fungicides, Poncho 1250 for insecticide, Votivo to protect against nematodes, biologicals/biostimulants, fluency agents, and a polymer coating to reduce dust-off and abrasion. This treatment is only available from Beck’s Hybrids, but you can still get your seed order in to gain additional protection.

The last thing about seed is the Relative Maturity selected. Many of us in the Northern Corn Belt are pushing the RM envelope to maximize our yields. In a good year we can make that work with maybe a little extra drying of the late RM corn. In a cold/wet spring that delays planting we start running out of growing season. I wouldn’t be too worried about it yet, but if it’s the 15th of May and we just started planting corn, you may want to move to a shorter RM.

A final tip, would be to use a starter fertilizer with your planter. A lot of times starters are called pop-up fertilizers because they help the corn emerge faster. Nutrients become more available as the soil warms up and soil biology starts working again after the winter hibernation. A good starter supplies nutrients to the seed right away to help it get off to a good start. Make sure you match up your starter to your planter’s capabilities. Some starter needs to be applied 2x2 away from your seed to prevent seedling damage. A starter like 3-14-14 can usually be applied in furrow or dripped on top without any seedling damage. We don’t sell starter fertilizers, but we would be happy to help you with any recommendations.

My hope is that planters will be rolling soon and the weather will be sunny and 70 for the rest of April! If that’s not the case, hopefully one or more of these tips can help you survive a long cold planting season. Give us a call with any questions you may have throughout the season. We are here to help you farm smarter.

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