With crop prices currently lower than in the past few years, many farmers are looking for every possibility to maximize yields. In years when weather cooperates, getting an early start on planting can be a good way to do that, as the extra time in the field gives plants more time to grow before the harvest season. But how do you know when it’s safe to plant? Think about the following conditions:
- Soil temperature. This is the key factor in determining when it’s safe to plant. If you’re planting corn, the soil needs to be 50 degrees or warmer, while soybeans need temps between 55 and 60. How fast the soil warms up in the spring is dependent on factors like snowpack and frost depth, so if it’s been a mild winter that was light on snow, expect the ground to warm sooner.
- Weather patterns. Keep the average last frost dates for your region in mind to avoid chilling injuries to your plants. Also remember that the chances of flooding come from both melting snow and spring rains, so consider the long-range forecast as well as how much accumulated snow has to melt as you’re assessing moisture conditions.
- Field drainage and soil moisture. You may be able to plant a well draining field a little sooner, knowing that its flooding risk is low.
“Don’t plant early just to plant early,” Steve Roehl, Data and Research Analyst at West Central, reminds us. “Plant when soil moisture and environmental conditions are optimal. Too many farmers plant at their first opportunity thinking it will get them higher yields, but planting at optimal environmental conditions will get you higher yields.”
The right combination of conditions can make it a perfect year for planting. Watch the ground temperature and the forecast closely to pick the ideal moment to start planting.