My Generation
To plant or not to plant, and other questions

To plant or not to plant, and other questions

First it warms up, then it cools off. A lot. Should you plant now or wait for it to warm back up?

Last week, our corner of western Illinois saw temperatures soar to the upper 70s and even lower 80s. Planters were rolling, including ours. My husband got a lot of corn in the ground over the course of about five days. Sunday brought rain, and cooler temperatures have persisted ever since – to the tune of a predicted low of 28 degrees on Wednesday night (as I write this on Wednesday evening, it's 38 so we'll know soon whether it made it to 28 or not). The gale-force winds that blew us around all day have vanished, and the still night means patchy frost will likely settle in.

Image courtesy of Luke Cole, Channel agronomist.

We had less than an inch of rain over the past couple days – closer to a half inch in most places. Our generally dry weather persists, though most of the rest of the state is not dry. By Wednesday, soils were dry enough for planting but the question: with lows in the 30s and highs in the 50s - and no change predicted until the middle of next week - is it too cold now?

Agronomists would lean toward yes. Luke Cole is a technical sales agronomist with Channel, based in New Berlin, Ill., who's been watching soil temps and says they're cooling off rapidly.

"Currently we are hanging around 50 degrees on average with a downward trend that will put the soils into the mid-40s by the end of the week," he says.

Cole isn't necessarily against planting, adding that putting corn into cool soils can often work out if there's no significant rainfall event.

"They are calling for rain on Saturday, but not a lot. If we only get a tenth and it warms up early next week I think corn planted today would be ok. If we get some heavy rains between now and the time that the soils warm back up to above 50 then it could be bad news," he says.

There are a lot of ifs in that paragraph.

"Planting today (Wednesday) would get it in the ground, but it will not really be getting any heat units until late next week," Cole points out. "Meaning if you plant today and next Friday, I would expect both fields to likely emerge about the same time with a next Friday planting being less risky."

And soybeans? He recommends against planting soybeans yet, but says it's started in some areas – soil temps need to be 55 and he predicts it'll take another 10 days to get to that temperature.

It's a lot of decisions, with a lot of inputs on the line. What's happening on your farm? Are you planting or no?

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