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Late Planting Risks & Rewards

Monday, March 28, 2011
filed under: Hybrid Selection/Planting

Coffee shop talk around much of the Dakotas and Minnesota concerns wet soils covered by layers of snow, which may well result in a late planting season. It’s a different scenario in the High Plains, where dry soils have little snow cover, and the winter wheat crop is uncertain. Overreaching all this are commodity prices saying, “Plant a crop, and you will be rewarded.”

For those northerners who may experience a late spring, the challenge is to get thousands of acres planted in a short window.

Then there is the crop insurance issue of “prevent plant” (PP). USDA’s Risk Management Agency spent a good deal of time educating insurance agents and farmers this winter that the PP option will be highly scrutinized in 2011 and beyond. As one insurance agent summarized, “The PP screws have been tightened.”

Plus, there’s also the cost of leaving land idle for a season. When soils are already wet, most farmers want to get something growing to take up some excess moisture, keep weeds down and cover bare soil.

There is a cost to PP. Crookston, Minn., farmer Kevin Capistran figures he would have about $42 tied up in two Roundup applications, a mechanical pass with the field cultivator, and planting a barley cover crop. And then there’s the cost of land. In a wet summer, ground just gets wetter and makes planting the land the following year more difficult. “In our area, PP is not a viable option because of the cost — and possible impact on that piece of ground becoming ‘sour,’ ” Capistran observes.

Then there’s the matter of good returns on investment in 2011. Missing out on record or near-record commodity prices will definitely hurt the bottom line. Planting beyond the last crop insurance date does have price consequences in case of a loss. In most cases, a crop can be planted 20 to 25 days beyond the last planting date with reduced coverage. For most crops, there is a 1% reduction in coverage per day beyond the deadline.

Sunflower is one of the last crops that can be planted in the northern region. Once established, the crop grows quickly. Common strategies agronomists and farmers have for working with late-planted sunflower include:

• Switch to an early maturing hybrid.

• Open or blacken the soil to warm it up for quicker emergence.

• Plant shallow, but into moisture, for faster emergence.

• Reduce some of the inputs to lower crop production costs.

• Plant slightly higher populations for quicker drydown.

• Minimize use of “stay green” hybrids to escape late-season drydown issues.

• Minimize use of “plant health” fungicides to avoid late-season drydown issues.

• Consider using a desiccant to aid drydown if it can be applied in time to be effective.

Regarding plant health fungicides, some farmers in a survey indicated they might use a product like Headline® because it may provide the plant with better frost tolerance. That may be the case in sugarbeets, but there are no data on sunflower.

In the end, deciding how late to plant sunflower is a question of past experience, crop insurance, land condition for the following year, and market opportunities.

The easiest decision is market opportunity. There’s good dollar return potential if a crop can be “made.” Crop insurance becomes a decision of filing for PP or planting beyond the final planting date and taking a 1% reduction per day after the deadline in the event of a crop failure.  Most farmers know how long they can extend their planting window. South Dakota and southern North Dakota farmers will go to the end of June or into early July. More-northerly locations commonly look at June 15 to June 20 as a last planting date.

North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research and Extension Center conducted a four-year date of planting study that used June 20 as the final planting date. The June 20 date in that central North Dakota location experienced a 25% yield reduction compared to a May 20 planting date, averaged across the four years.

The scenario is similar in South Dakota. Kathleen Grady, South Dakota State University sunflower breeder, conducted a three-year date of planting study at multiple sites in that state’s north and south crop insurance zones. Average yield (all locations) on a June 25 planting date in the north zone was 1,375 lbs/ac — 25% lower than the June 10 planting yield. The June 30 planting date in the southern zone yielded 1,350 lbs/ac on average — 32% lower than the June 15 planting date.

Of great interest is the fact that yields for both of the South Dakota late-planting dates were still higher than the county average T-yields. Test weight and oil content declined with the later plantings, while harvest moisture increased.

None of this should be surprising. The key question is this: Does a potential 25% yield reduction, compared to peak yield, still generate sufficient revenue compared to the risk of filing for PP and leaving that land idle? — Larry Kleingartner

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