Spring 2019 will arrive soon and the planting season is quickly approaching.
Farmers spend most of their work time in a tractor during planting, but some of the most valuable time is off the tractor, checking soil conditions.
“Boots in the field pays for itself every single time, getting out of the cab and double-checking, ‘am I planting consistently?’” said Stephanie Kowalski, agronomy lead for the Agronomy Company of Canada.
Why it matters: Having a great start to the year comes down to the planting pass through the field. Planting into the right conditions sets the seed up for success.
The state of the soil and the importance of planting into the right soil conditions can make a difference in the outcome of the planting season, dictating the growing season and final yield.
Soil moisture and temperature are the two main components to analyze when deciding if the soil is fit for planting.
Corn seeds need to absorb 30 per cent and soybean 50 per cent of their weight in moisture to germinate properly. Without enough moisture, the seeds remain dormant until that moisture arrives. Planting into dry soils and waiting for rain is high risk and depends too much on Mother Nature, as some farmers experienced in spring 2018.
Planting into soils that are too wet leads to seed trenches that close incorrectly, which can cause a lack of oxygen to the seed and the smearing of the side walls of the trench with the planter.
The seed trench side walls can be easily compacted when planting into soils that are too wet. This is an issue because hard side walls can create a difficult environment for roots to grow through and that can prevent roots from getting off to a great start.
Later in the growing season, this can cause issues when vigorous roots are needed to obtain water during dry months.
“When you compact those side walls, because it’s too wet or you’re pushing it on some heavy clay, you hurt that crop right out of the gate, and you’ll never get that back and you’re paying for it longer in the season,” says Kowalski.
“All of these things start adding up to yield loss, when you could have waited a day or two for it to dry out just a little bit and you would have been good to go.”
Compaction can become an issue as well and that can also lead to more field work down the road that could have been avoided with a little patience.
Johanna Lindeboom, agronomist with Clarke Agri Service in Wellandport, said the most important thing farmers should remember when pulling an implement is to stop if it’s not doing the job you want.
“It’s one thing if you can drive on top of the soil, it doesn’t mean it’s fit for planting. It just means that it can hold your equipment,” she says.
Oil moisture variability
The ideal soil moisture varies from farmer to farmer, soil type to soil type. It’s important for each farmer to know what the ideal soil moisture is for their farming operation.
When getting into too dry conditions, farmers should plant deeper to get seeds into moisture, without getting too deep.
Planting too deep becomes an issue when you’re working with soil types that are known to crust.
“Some studies have shown that you can plant up to three inches. When you get a pounding rain on a heavy clay, that clay will seal off and your (corn) seed is three inches down, good luck,” says Kowalski. “But if your seed is three inches down on a lighter soil and you get a good rain, you’re laughing.”
For soil temperature, 10 C is ideal, but the temperature of water can also have an effect.
If the soil is fit to go, but the weather forecast calls for cold rain during the following few days, that can hurt seeds, says Kowalski.
“Soybeans immediately imbibe water when they are placed in the soil and that first drink of water, you don’t want it to be ice cold. If you’re planting on a sunny, warm day, right before it’s calling for a huge frost, you could be setting yourself up for a bad situation. Or if it’s calling for a really cold rain or run into a temperature drop, that’s something to watch out for,” says Lindeboom.
Farmers are advised to walk their fields to better understand soil conditions.
Using a thermometer is an easy way to check the soil temperature and many seed companies have soil temperature probes to give to farmers.
“It’s a race to get on the field in the spring and be sure to accept the fact that you (may) be dead last in that race, but the patience can really pay out,” says Lindeboom.