What does growing season have in store?

Tony Nye - OSU Extension

This “spring” the weather has gone from snow and 24 degrees to sunny and 80 degrees within a week. This unusual weather leaves many of us wondering what’s in store for the remainder of the growing season.

Peter Thomison, The Ohio State University corn specialist and Laura Lindsey, The Ohio State University soybean specialist, share their perspectives on potentials for the upcoming growing season for corn and soybeans. According to Thomison and Lindsey, in general, unfavorable weather conditions tend to affect soybean yield much less compared to corn yield.

They noted that in 2012, when we experienced a hot, dry summer, corn yield was reduced by 23 percent while soybean yield was only reduced by 8 percent (which by the way was the worst yielding year we have had in the past five years statewide for both corn – 120 bu./A and soybeans 45 bu./A).

However, under more optimum weather conditions, corn yield gains are much greater compared to soybean. With more ideal weather in 2013 and 2014, corn yield increased 12 to 14 percent while soybean yield only increased 2 to 8 percent.

Looking at soybean yields for Ohio, despite the weather, the state soybean yield does not tend to fluctuate much according to Lindsey. Soybean vegetative and reproductive stages overlap, allowing the soybean plant to compensate for short periods of stress.

In 2012, while plants were stunted and there was an increased number of flower abortion due to hot/dry weather conditions, soybean yield was “saved” in many areas of the state due to rainfall in August and September promoting seed fill.

Thomison notes that with the weather forecast calling for “slightly above” normal temperatures and “slightly below precipitation” for the remainder of April and similar conditions for May, this year offers an opportunity to plant corn at optimum calendar dates for yield.

The recommended time for planting corn across Ohio is mid-April through about the first week of May. Grain yield and test weight are increased by early plantings, whereas grain moisture is reduced, thereby allowing earlier harvest and reducing drying costs. In central Ohio, he points out yields decline approximately 1 to 1.5 bu./day for planting delayed beyond the first week of May.

Early planting generally produces shorter plants with better standability. When we delay planting, it increases the risk of frost damage to corn and may subject the crop to greater injury from various late insect and disease pest problems, such as European corn borer and gray leaf spot. With earlier planting, vegetative growth is usually complete and pollination initiated prior to the period of greatest moisture stress in July, and grain filling occurs during the periods when solar radiation is high which promotes greater accumulation of dry matter in the grain.

Thomison suggests that no-tillage corn can be planted at the same time as conventional, if soil conditions permit. In reality, however, planting may often need to be delayed several days to permit extra soil drying. Corn should be planted only when soils are dry enough to support traffic without causing soil compaction. Yield reductions resulting from “mudding the seed in” may be much greater than those resulting from a slight planting delay.

Moreover, given the weather projections for drier and warmer conditions than normal, even with such delays, the crop may be planted before the optimum plant date window ends.

Thomison warns that there have been occurrences in past years when early to mid-April planting were adversely affected by an abrupt transition from warm, dry conditions to freezing rains and snow. When dry corn seed absorbs cold water as a result of a cold rain or melting snow, “imbibitional chilling injury” may result. Such injury in corn seed can lead to delayed seedling growth and reduced stands, so planting right before such large temperature swings should be avoided.

Appropriate planting depths for corn vary with soil and weather conditions. Thomison notes there is a perception that shallow planting depths (less than 1.5 inches) are appropriate for early plantings — when soil conditions are usually cool and moist — because seed will emerge more rapidly due to warmer soil temperatures closer to the surface.

However, planting shallower than 1.5 inches is generally not recommended at any planting date or in any soil type. Recent Ohio studies that evaluated corn response to seeding depth provide no evidence to support shallow plantings. For normal conditions, plant corn at 1.5 to 2-inches deep to provide frost protection and allow for adequate root development.

When corn is planted 1.5 to 2 inches deep, the nodal roots develop about 0.5 to 0.75 inch below the soil surface. At planting depths less than 1 inch, the nodal roots develop at or just below the soil surface.

Excessively shallow planting can cause slow, uneven emergence due to soil moisture variation, and rootless corn (“floppy corn syndrome”) when hot, dry weather inhibits nodal root development. Shallow plantings increase stress and result in less developed roots, smaller ears and reduced yields.

Tony Nye is the state coordinator for The Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program, and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for 28 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.


Tony Nye

OSU Extension