The recent flirtation with almost mid-summer type temperature swings makes the mind wander forward to the coming season.  Some thoughts in that regard follow.

Above Normal Temperatures Dominant

According to analysts with the Weather Company, an IBM Business, we are on a string of above normal temperatures across much of the nation, the exception being the Northwestern most region of the lower 48.

“Each month this winter has gotten successively warmer, relative to normal, with any sustained below-normal temperatures generally limited to the north-western quarter of the country” said Dr. Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist with The Weather Company. “While the La Nina event is waning, we expect the recent atmospheric response and pattern to generally persist well into spring and maybe even early summer. As we evolve towards a potential El Nino event later in the year, we would expect cooler risks to temperatures to finally emerge across the eastern U.S. by the second half of the summer.”

Source:Cooler Conditions Confined to Parts of the West – “U.S. Seasonal Outlook: The Weather Company Expects Warmth for Eastern U.S. to Continue into Early Summer”

 Further, it appears as though surface soil moisture levels are above average for the upper Midwest, with sub soil levels a bit more variable as you move north to south in our region.  This combination could spell some good news heading into the coming season.

Here are a couple maps illustrating current soil conditions at the end of February for the continent, courtesy of Farm Journal’s website, :

You can view these maps and others at: (AgWeb, powered by Farm Journal)

With all this in mind, let’s review some things to keep in mind as we look to the planting season.


When dry conditions predominate at planting time, regardless of the crop, remember that as we increase tillage passes, we lose soil moisture.  When conditions are excessively wet, care must be taken to avoid creating compactive layers, which can exist from the surface zone to below the plow layer.  The tillage system you choose effects such things as your planting depth, and population against the date of planting.



If you have a lot of residue in the seed zone, more opportunities exist for early season insects and to some extent, diseases, to effect the population of your final stand.  Seed corn maggot, wireworm, and other seed infesting problems are exacerbated when cold wet soil conditions prevail.  When cold and dry conditions are present in the soil, moisture may not be readily available for germination and emergence.  Seeding depths may need to be adjusted to allow for these conditions to get the crop started as soon as possible.  You may find yourself planting a bit shallower on the earliest fields when soil temperature may not quite be right but you have good soil moisture; and a bit deeper on the fields planted later so the seed can find adequate moisture.



Producers in more southern corn belt regions have often planted earlier hybrids to avoid heat and drought anticipated for August.  It’s been found, however, that there is no substitute for the yield potential offered by the full season hybrid and if dry conditions enable early planting, stick the ones that are likely to give you the highest yield.



The topic of row spacing has been tested and debated across the country for many years; with renewed vigor since the introduction of the KemperR row neutral head on self-propelled choppers, and improved row systems for combines.  In Iowa, however, in normal seasons, the light interception from a 30-inch row is approximately 95% at silking which is considered the point of maximum yield. This is why there hasn’t been the response level achieved in other regions of the country like the northeast.  If early season stress (particularly dry conditions) reduces canopy closure, however, there may be some advantage to narrower rows than 30”.  There is no apparent advantage to rows above 30” under any conditions nonetheless.



Planting dates will vary widely across the Midwest depending on soil moisture and temperature anywhere from early April to early May. The best guide is soil temperature and moisture.  If the soil is dry, and the surface is warming to 50oF during the day, with warm weather imminent within 5-7 days, there’s no reason not to plant your full season hybrids.  If you’re following all the guidelines relating to avoiding wet planting conditions, you’re getting good soil-seed contact, and especially if you’re using a seed treater other than that which it has in the bag, the earlier, the better.



Seeding rates are continually rising, now settling in between 34,500 and 37,000 plants per acre.  Adjust upward when planting super early, and downward when planting later into drier, warmer soils.  The amazing hybrids being developed today can withstand a lot more stress than earlier releases. Take advantage of that and go for the yield!


…just a few thoughts and reminders to consider and a few links to some excellent resources as we approach what we hope will be a great 2017! Sources for this article included:

Corn Planting FAQs – Iowa State University Integrated Crop Management Program

AgWeb – Soil Moisture

News and Events – Weather – The Weather Company