Is Planting Date All It’s Cracked Up to Be?
Planting Date is Important, but It Alone Won’t Make or Break a Crop
Every farmer knows that moment - the instant when you look at the calendar and your cropping plan, and realize that it is almost time to get seed into the ground. It’s easy to start feeling the pressure of an overwhelming workload and the need for as much of a growing season as you can squeeze in.
Planting date is one of the most important management decisions you can make each year. For many farmers, conventional wisdom says that early planting encourages higher yields. Yield potential can be greater with early planting for many reasons, including an extended growing season, less early pest and disease pressure, and a greater chance for ideal conditions at pollination.
However, the data shows us that an early planting date doesn’t automatically ensure success for the crop. As you can see in data from 2017 planting dates in Minnesota and Illinois, the late April window provided the highest yields last year. If the window opens to plant early, it is important that you be ready to take advantage of it. But keep in mind that planting too early can also mean slightly lower yields.
While the yields are higher earlier than they are later, you will also notice that, in Illinois, planting before April 15 was within 5 bushels per acre of a late April/early May planting; however, in Minnesota, the difference was more significant, at 15 bushels per acre.
The most significant thing to look for, to know if your fields are ready for planting, is favorable soil conditions that are expected remain that way in the weeks that follow. Because planting too early means a higher risk of frost or freeze, which could require replant. And planting too late can result in a shorter growing season along with less-than-ideal weather at pollination.
This often means we’re planting in mid- to late-April across much of the Midwest, but as the data tells us, we can’t rely on assumptions about what “early” or “late” planting will mean for the overall performance of the crop.
Instead, analyzing past planting dates, alongside other planting conditions, such as soil temperature, seeding rate and terrain/elevation, can help develop a holistic picture of the right time to get seed in the ground with the highest probability of success.
Overall, it’s important to aim for the ideal planting date window; but, if the choice is to “mud in” a crop or wait for better conditions, it may be better to wait. After all, a replant due to poor planting conditions, even at what seems like an optimal planting date, can be just as unfavorable as waiting for a slightly later date.
Planting data above is based on real-world farming data. Information on seed hybrids has been aggregated across millions of acres of data from 2017. Maturity range includes 108-114 days in Illinois and 93-106 days in Minnesota.