Managing later-than-normal crop planting

Many farmers are in a holding pattern waiting for a planting window

More rain fell on parts of Ontario through late May, delaying corn and soybean planting and further frustrating many farmers.

In a broad swatch of land from Ottawa to Windsor there had been little crop planted as of May 22. There were some exceptions. North of Hwy. 86, much of the corn is planted in Bruce and parts of Grey counties. Most communities have some pockets of lighter land that have been planted.

Why it matters: The later planting season gets, the more concern there is about fall maturity, depending on summer growing conditions.

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For Harvey Hill, a dairy, beef, and grain farmer from Ottawa, the need for cattle feed means he has to get at least some corn planted before June 5, and will continue trying to plant until that time. Unfortunately, success thus far has been minimal.

“We have no corn or beans in the ground,” says Hill. “We just need warm weather and sun; and a higher price.”

He adds much of his hay crop is in bad shape after harsh winter and early-spring conditions.

Paul Sullivan, agronomist and owner of P.T. Sullivan Agro Inc. based near Ottawa, says Hill and other farmers in his area have had a total of three good planting days as of May 16. Despite this, however, they are further ahead than what was experienced in 2017, another notably wet planting year.

He estimates slightly more than 10 per cent of the corn crop has made it into the ground as of late May. Farmers planting beans and spring grains have also had “a nice start.”

“We’re two-thirds in on spring grain….We’re going to plant spring grains as long as we can,” says Sullivan.

However, he says field conditions closer to Renfrew and those in the Seaway Valley can be varied — the latter being somewhat further along.

“You really don’t know what an average is going to be for a year at all,” Sullivan says. “You can speculate on what the season is going to be all you like, but it is speculation.”

Careful hybrid selection

According to Sullivan, producers in eastern Ontario seldom comfortably plant corn into June, with May 30 being the general cutoff.

He says his clients’ hybrid selections and other plans have had to change many times this year, but having a basic game plan to begin with — one that can be changed and adapted to changing conditions — is very important.

Russ Barker, a Pioneer Hybrid sales representative and certified crop adviser based near St. Marys, also says planting corn in June is risky. While it can work with enough heat and a good amount of moisture, he personally would switch to beans, which are much more forgiving in terms of planting date.

Barker says many farmers in his area, a 2,900 to 3,000 heat unit zone, have pulled back on long-season hybrids. This applies less for those growing corn for silage, although 2,900 heat unit varieties are now common.

“There are lots of good genetics with a little earlier maturity corn … we’re just hedging our bets a little,” he says. “In the last week of May, for sure start pulling back.”

Spray if planting is not an option

The importance of early-season weed control is well understood. With this in mind, Sullivan says some farmers in his area have been able to get some spraying done in light of higher-than-ideal moisture levels.

“It’s one of the things you can do that isn’t doing damage to the soil other than in some low spots,” he says. “We try to spray as much as we can as early as we can … we can’t let up on basic good management practices like early season weed control.”

Barker says he is not concerned if weeds are sprayed before planting, though he prefers to spray first. Some farmers in his area have been able to accomplish this. Regardless, he says a three-, four-, or five-day respite from rain would be enough to get planting.

“We still have time for pretty good crops … we’re close to being able to go,” Barker says.

About the author

Contributor

Matt is a freelance writer based between Essex County and Chatham-Kent. He is interested in all things scientific, as well as rock n' roll, hunting and history. He also works with his parents on their sixth-generation family farm.

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